MANILA: Posters have yet to be plastered on Philippine streets and few candidates have declared but the campaign vitriol for next May's presidential election is already in full flow.
Incumbent President Gloria Arroyo has repeatedly said she will not run.
But her protestations are growing harder to believe as her popularity ratings bounce back a point not lost on her political opponents.
In the latest salvo in what promises to be a turbulent run-up to the election, an opposition senator with presidential ambitions accused Arroyo's husband of salting away about US$3.5mil (RM13mil) in bank accounts under false names.
Jose Miguel or Mike, called the allegations that he had diverted millions of pesos in campaign contributions a fairytale.
The president said her family would welcome the kind of anti-corruption checks that have yielded charges against several tax and Customs officials.
But Senator Panfilo Lacson's allegations, made on Monday in a speech in the Senate, moved financial markets already jittery after a mutiny last month by several hundred soldiers.
The damage seemed to be short-lived as market players said they were waiting to see what would happen next.
Lacson's speech hit close to home as Arroyo has waged a high-profile but only semi-successful war against the corruption that pervades public and private life in the Philippines.
But Arroyo's spokesman said Lacson was trying to shift attention from potential criminal charges over accusations that he himself was in cahoots with drug dealers and kidnap-for-ransom gangs when he was the national police force chief.
Lacson promised more startling revelations about corruption in Arroyo's administration but denied the allegations were designed to brighten his own political fortunes.
The Filipino people deserve to know, especially corruption being committed at the highest level of government bureaucracy, he said yesterday.
Lacson dismissed the graft accusations against him, saying he had already rebutted them.
The country's money-laundering watchdog said checks of the first gentleman's bank accounts would take time to complete.
Lacson did not target Arroyo directly but the allegations against her husband begged questions about the political timing.
The Lacson attack has indeed set the stage of the acrimonious tone of the 2004 campaign, commentator Amando Doronila wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
The peso was pounded to 31-month lows against the dollar yesterday but analysts said its weakness was due largely to lingering concerns after the July 27 mutiny and a court-ordered suspension of central bank Governor Rafael Buenaventura.
Yields on Philippine government debt pulled back in after widening slightly on Tuesday.
Noel Reyes, vice-president of financial markets at ING Bank, said investors were largely brushing aside Lacson's allegations because of questions about his own credibility and the lack of concrete evidence.
Until he can show those things, I don't think there will be much impact, Reyes said. Reuters