Presidential front-runner Fernando Poe Jr may gain more votes than criticism for his frankness.

"That is true," Poe said in a televised interview on Tuesday night when asked about talk in the local entertainment world that he had a child with Anna Marin, a movie starlet.

Poe, married to another actress since 1968, said the affair with Marin had been over "for a long time". The child, a son, is a 22-year-old university student.

Marin is now an understudy to the star of a political satire called Electile Disfunction running on stage in Manila.

Campaign twist

With general elections in this mainly Roman Catholic country just three months away on 10 May, the revelation added another twist to a campaign rife with rumours of plots against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government and other dirty tricks.

"In Philippine politics, questions of integrity are not very serious," Joel Rocamora of the Institute for Popular Democracy, an independent think-tank, said on Wednesday.

"In Philippine politics, questions of integrity are not very serious... Twenty percent of men are womanisers but another 60% would like to be, so I don't think it's going to be a big issue"

Joel Rocamora,
Institute for Popular Democracy

"Twenty percent of men are womanisers but another 60% would like to be, so I don't think it's going to be a big issue."
 
Poe, whose lack of political experience and links to ousted president Joseph Estrada have rattled financial markets, enjoys huge recognition among the masses after playing a hero to the oppressed on screen for nearly five decades.

Despite his close friendship with Estrada, well known for carousing and gambling as a movie star before he was ousted from the presidential palace by a popular revolt in early 2001, Poe has managed to maintain an image for clean living.

Estrada, now on trial for economic plunder, acknowledges having fathered several children with women other than his wife.
 
Illegitimate children

It is not uncommon for children to be born out of wedlock in the Philippines, where Catholic clerics preach personal restraint and condemn artificial birth control.

For the rich and powerful, keeping a second family can be a statement of status. At some high-society parties, bodyguards can be called upon to gracefully shield wives from mistresses.

President Arroyo has risen in the
polls from third to second place

Middle-class voters may fuss about the "morality question", said Ricky Abad, a sociology professor at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University, but few are Poe supporters to begin with.

"For a large number of voters, I don't think it will matter," said Abad, noting there was no such thing as a unified Catholic bloc that could be summoned to punish Poe at the ballot box.

"It's also part of the macho culture," he added. "But if it was a woman, probably there would be much more uproar because of this double standard."
 
Poe stayed firmly in the lead in the latest opinion poll, conducted on January 16-22 before the news of his son with Marin, as his approval rating leaped 11 points to 36%.

Economic woes

Arroyo, an economist and devout Catholic whose three years of reforms have made only limited headway against corruption and a variety of economic woes, moved up from third place to second.
 
Her rating rose to 27% from 17% in November. The pollster, Social Weather Stations, put this down to Arroyo picking Noli de Castro, a senator and popular newsreader, as her running mate.

Raul Roco, a lawyer and former education secretary, is now in third place ahead of Senator Panfilo Lacson, a national police chief under Estrada who accuses Arroyo's husband of corruption.

Filipino tolerance, which overlooked Estrada's infidelities as he charged to a landslide victory in the 1998 election, should allow Poe to escape the love-child revelations unscathed.

"It's okay with me because he has been very honest," said one Manila taxi driver. "It shows that he's really a real man."