Manila: The Philippines` Supreme Court gave the go-ahead Tuesday for leading presidential candidate Grace Poe to run in May elections, removing a major obstacle in her bid to become the country`s third female leader.
The court rejected a December ruling by the election commission that Poe, the adopted daughter of movie star parents, should be disqualified on the grounds she was not a "natural born" Filipino and she had not lived in the Philippines long enough.
"The petition (of Poe) is granted 9-6," court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters, but did not discuss the judges` reasoning.
Poe, a senator who is narrowly leading most opinion polls to succeed President Benigno Aquino in the May vote, immediately hailed the decision.
"This is a victory not only for myself, but also for the poor and the downtrodden... as well as for all women," 47-year-old Poe told cheering supporters at an International Women`s Day rally in Manila.
The constitution defines natural-born Filipinos as "those who are citizens of the Philippines from birth without having to perform any act to acquire or perfect their citizenship".
Critics contended Poe failed this test since it was not known if her biological parents were Filipino citizens.
They also alleged Poe, who at one time acquired and then later renounced US citizenship, had not been a resident of the Philippines continuously over the past 10 years, a requirement for the post.
Poe says she was abandoned soon after birth at a Catholic church nave and adopted by the country`s most famous film star couple when she was five.
With no political experience at the time, Poe was a surprise top vote-winner in the 2013 senatorial election, helped by a fresh, outsider image with an electorate that had grown weary of rampant corruption.
She mostly benefited from sympathy votes for her late adopted father, Fernando Poe, who was allegedly cheated into second place in the 2004 presidential election by Gloria Arroyo.
Campaigning in a celebrity-obsessed culture that has voted movie stars in the senate and even the presidency, Poe has taken full advantage of her film royalty status, frequently invoking her father`s name on the stump.
She has vowed to pursue her father`s pledge "to help the poor, fight oppression and forge a prosperous and just society".
Poe`s main rivals are Aquino`s close ally and preferred successor, Mar Roxas, Vice President Jejomar Binay and provincial politician Rodrigo Duterte, who styles himself as a "Dirty Harry" anti-crime crusader.
The four are in a near statistical dead heat, with Poe just ahead, according to one reputable poll released last week.