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Arroyo battles film star for votes

From CNN's Veronica Pedrosa

Arroyo with running mate Noli di Castro.
Arroyo with running mate Noli di Castro.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- Candidates in the Philippine presidential election have hit the campaign trail in what is expected to be a two-way fight between incumbent Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and movie star Fernando Poe Jr.

Some observers are concerned that personality and not policy are the only factors in the running.

A stage, a school and a church were the venues chosen to kick off the campaigns.

The deeply catholic president -- who chose a provincial cathedral as her backdrop -- is counting on experience and her newsreader running mate's popularity to convince the voters they are the country's saviours.

In stark contrast, celebrities showed up to endorse Poe, widely seen as the John Wayne of Philippine cinema, and now a challenger for the nation's top job.

"In my travels around the country as an actor, I saw the real face of poverty, poverty is the greatest scandal in our country," he says.

But Poe's candidacy is overshadowed by history. The last movie star voted to the presidency was overthrown in a peaceful uprising and now languishes in jail on charges of massive corruption.

That was three years ago and it didn't stop Poe's campaign from employing a group call the Sex Bomb Dancers to keep the 10,000 people at his campaign kickoff entertained.

Poe was cleared to run in January after a petition questioning his nationality was rejected.

Lawyers had argued that because Poe was the illegitimate son of an American mother and a Spanish father, he was not qualified to run in the elections.

A much lower key campaign start came from former education secretary Paul Roco, who was seen visiting a university.

"But to make the dancing and singing the focus of the campaign, without a message and a platform, then you will just be made a dancer and a singer," he said.

Filipinos have until May to decide who their next president will be.

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