Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal war on drugs, joined the race for president on Thursday, promising to usher in a government that cares for the people, not personal interests.
Ms Robredo, 56, who was elected separately from Mr Duterte and was not his running partner, said her decision was a difficult one but she wanted to be of greater service to a country facing serious health and economic challenges.
"If we truly want to liberate ourselves from this situation, we should change not just the surnames of those in power – the corruption, the incompetence, the lack of compassion must be replaced by competence and integrity in leadership," said Ms Robredo, who is running as an independent candidate.
Ms Robredo will face at least four other candidates who have made their presidential runs official, including the son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whom she beat by a slim margin in the 2016 vice presidential contest.
Mr Duterte is unable to run for president in the election in May next year because of rules on term limits. He had said he would run for vice president, but announced on Saturday that he will retire from politics.
Candidates have until October 8 to register. Mr Duterte's daughter, Sara Duterte-Caprio, who political analysts expected to join the race at the 11th hour, as her father did in 2015, insisted on Wednesday she wanted to continue as mayor of Davao city.
A poll of people's preferred candidates last month showed Ms Robredo, a human rights lawyer and widow of a former interior minister, trailing Mr Marcos and others, including former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso.
'Let Leni Lead'
Ms Robredo's backers, including another prominent critic of Mr Duterte, former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, have for months been urging her to run with a "Let Leni Lead" battle cry.
They cheered her decision and promised support.
Soon after her announcement, the hashtag #LabanLeni2022 (FightLeni2022) became the top trending Philippine item on Twitter, while supporters posted photos of themselves on social media wearing pink, the colour associated with Ms Robredo.
"What is at stake are the lives and the future of the Filipinos ... billions upon billions of pesos went into questionable contracts while millions of Filipinos struggle," said Ms Robredo, taking a swipe at the government over questions on its use of $1.3 billion in pandemic funds.
"The lack of good governance lies at the root of our many problems. This needs to end," she said.
The government had dismissed suggestions of wrongdoing.
Ms Robredo, a congresswoman before becoming vice president, has long been a thorn in Mr Duterte's side, questioning his war on drugs, his embrace of China and recently the handling of Covid-19.
Under Mr Duterte, Ms Robredo served as housing minister but quit after being excluded from Cabinet meetings. After criticising what she called "senseless killings" in the war on drugs, Mr Duterte appointed her as his "drugs tsar" but sacked her after 18 days.
Mr Duterte's spokesman, Harry Roque, when asked about Ms Robredo's comments, said everyone had the right to stand for public office.
Aries Arugay, political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said voters disgruntled with the handling of the pandemic would gravitate towards Ms Robredo, who has been active in trying to respond to the health crisis.
"For voters negatively affected by the pandemic who think the government has failed, it's a no-brainer to vote for Robredo," Mr Arugay told Reuters.
Should Ms Robredo win the presidency, she would be the third woman to lead the Philippines after democracy champion Corazon Aquino in 1986 and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001.