MANILA: A leading contender for the Philippine presidency, Senator Grace Poe, could be barred from standing next year after the election commission ruled Wednesday she was not a "natural born" Filipino. The neophyte politician, who topped the senatorial election in 2013, was a foundling with unknown parents who was adopted and raised by Philippine movie stars.

She went to study in the United States in the late 1980s and lived there until April 2005, although she briefly returned to the Philippines to help her father in the 2004 presidential election campaign. "Seven members of the commission believed that Senator Poe is not a natural born citizen," Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista said, adding she has five days to get the Supreme Court to stop the commission enforcing Wednesday's ruling.

Under the constitution, a Philippine president must be a "natural born citizen-meaning a Filipino at birth, be able to read and write, be at least 40 years old and a resident of the country for 10 years before the vote. Bautista said the commission also found Poe, 47, failed to comply with the 10-year residency requirement.

Poe, who for a time became a naturalized US citizen, returned to the Philippines when her movie star father Fernando Poe Jnr died seven months after being defeated in the May 2004 presidential election. She vowed Wednesday to fight on. "I am a Filipino and qualified to offer myself as president of our country.

The (commission) cannot change that much less deprive our people of their right to choose our next leader," she said in a statement. She vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, urging the magistrates to be "objective and fair in their discernment of my case". "Until the high tribunal's final ruling is out, I remain a candidate for president of the Filipino people," said Poe, who has also maintained she has renounced her US citizenship and fulfilled the residency requirement.

Bautista said Poe's name "is in the ballot as we speak", but would not say if it would be culled if the Supreme Court fails to issue an immediate injunction. He said the commission has until January 20 to prepare the final list of candidates to be included in the May 9, 2016 ballot. Poe was the clear front-runner when she announced her candidacy in September.

However, she lost her outright lead amid legal challenges to her candidacy. A Social Weather Stations poll of 1,200 registered voters nationwide, also released yesterday, found Poe level-pegging with Vice President Jejomar Binay at 26 percent. President Benigno Aquino's preferred successor, former interior secretary Manuel Roxas, was in third place at 22 percent, just ahead of Rodrigo Duterte, a southern Philippines mayor with a hardline stance against crime. - AFP