The Philippines sees itself as one of the beacons of democracy in Asia. Fervently proud of its free press and freedom to vote, the country is however also known for its violence, corruption and poverty.
On 10 May, more than 50m registered voters go to the polls to choose a new president, vice president, half the 24-member Senate, individual and party-list members of the House of Representatives and all local government leaders. More than 85,000 candidates are contesting about 17,000 positions.
The BBC's Vaudine England looks at who is running for the country's highest office.
BENIGNO "NOYNOY" AQUINO
The front-runner, Noynoy Aquino, is the son of Benigno "Ninoy" and Corazon "Cory" Aquino.
His father was shot dead on his return to the Philippines from political exile in 1983 - martyred for his democratic agenda under a martial law administration led by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
Cory Aquino took power after the first People Power revolution of 1986 which followed the fraudulent snap election called by Mr Marcos in February that year.
Noynoy, 50, is said to be short on charisma and, his critics allege, on achievement during his past 12 years as a legislator. But he is loved for his honesty and for his heritage.
Analysts have predicted that with his pedigree, he cannot lose. He has said that if he does lose, he will call out the forces that installed his mother, and mourned her death last year, in a new and overwhelming People Power movement.
MANUEL "MANNY" VILLAR
A property tycoon and senator, Manny Villar, 60, appeared to have the most compelling narrative at the start of the campaign - a poor boy who clawed his way up to huge wealth by his own endeavour.
After entering politics in 1992 he presided over the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada in 2000. Film stars, right-wing clan leaders and even leftist politicians eager to exploit his nationwide machine flocked to his banner.
Senator Villar's powerful marketing campaign has painted him as one who understands the plight of the poor through first-hand experience - this had closed the gap in the polls in February.
In recent weeks however, Sen Villar's polling figures have slipped as allegations of corruption have taken hold, and stories emerged of his business dealings.
JOSEPH "ERAP" ESTRADA
One-time movie star, former president, convicted criminal imprisoned for "plunder" - Joseph "Erap" Estrada has been on and off the Philippine political merry-go-round.
At 73, some would think it time to take a break, but Erap claims he is gaining rapidly in the polls and could pull off a surprise yet.
Current President Gloria Arroyo deposed him half way through his term in the so-called People Power II of 2001. She managed to jail him but pardoned him later.
He retains popularity among the many who grew up watching his heroic gangster movies in which he vanquished evil, rescued damsels in distress and battled against the odds to win through.
GILBERTO "GIBO" TEODORO
A cousin of Noynoy Aquino, Mr Teodoro, 45, has chosen a different political path, being the chosen candidate of incumbent President Gloria Arroyo.
After nine years in power Mrs Arroyo's popularity is at rock bottom, and she has spent much of recent years fending off impeachment applications and corruption allegations.
Mr Teodoro was educated at Harvard, and has been defence secretary in the Arroyo administration. He is chairman of Mrs Arroyo's Lakas-Kampi-CMD party.
However, many members of the party have defected to the Aquino or Villar campaigns amid rumours that Sen Villar is Mrs Arroyo's preferred winner.
RICHARD "DICK" GORDON
Dick Gordon, 64, first gained national prominence and admiration as the Mayor of Olongapo, the then honky-tonk town adjoining the US naval base at Subic.
He registered street cleaners and prostitutes, bar workers and musicians, bringing a new level of order, cleanliness, even pride to the city whose life as a rest and recreation centre faded after the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption.
More recently Senator Gordon has been chairman of the Philippines Red Cross, and oversaw the successful rescue of three International Committee of the Red Cross staffers who had been taken hostage by militants in the south of the country.
Unable to run again for president, incumbent Gloria Arroyo, 63, is running for a seat in Congress, aiming to become Speaker in the House of Representatives. Analysts say this is part of her longer term plan to control a possible process of constitutional change known as Charter Change (or "Cha-Cha") which could later return her to power as a prime minister.
Likely to garner most media attention, but of less political importance, is the campaign by former first lady Imelda Marcos, 80, for the congress seat long held by her family.
This is so that her son, Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos, can run for the Senate as part of an admitted long-term plan to run for the presidency - the job his father took and made into dictatorship in 1972 until it was wrested from him by the Aquino family.