MANILA, Philippines ? (UPDATE) A known activist-environmentalist presented himself on Wednesday as an aspirant for the presidency in the 2010 elections, saying the current crop of contenders lacked the qualifications for the highest post in the land.
Jesus Nicanor "Nicky" Perlas III said the kind of choice and an opportunity for change that he was offering to the public was timely, given his experience working with farmers as well as foreign officials.
"There are many Filipinos who have grown tired of elections where there are no real choices. We are tired of always having to choose the lesser evil. This is why I am announcing my intention to run in the 2010 elections," Perlas told a group of some 50 friends and supporters at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) park in Quezon City.
Asked if he could win, he said: "Yes, absolutely!"
With that envisioned victory, Perlas will ensure a "tight case" against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
"She has damaged this country so much, and I want justice," he said.
Perlas said he was previously offered full-time government posts, including the environment portfolio in 2003, but he turned them all down.
"I am a private person," he said. "I don't want to be in the limelight."
There are presidential aspirants richer and more popular than him, but Perlas hopes to match their machinery and campaign funds by mobilizing a million volunteers, saying money "cannot buy hearts and minds that dream of something better."
He said: "No one really steps up to challenge the system the way I can challenge it."
Perlas is known for opposing the opening of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and the plan to build 11 others during the term of former President Ferdinand Marcos.
He also served as consultant for two administrations: for the Presidential Committee on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant during the administration of former President Corazon Aquino and for the Philippine Council of Sustainable Development during the time of former President Fidel Ramos.
He won the Right Livelihood Award from the Swedish Parliament in 2003 for his civil society work and the Earth Warrior Award from the United Nations Environmental Program in 1994 for leading efforts to ban 32 poisonous pesticides in the country.
In a statement distributed during his announcement on Wednesday, organizers said that while Perlas was "not a familiar name to most Filipinos," he spent the last 40 years "in dedicated and quiet public service."
Perlas is the latest in the list of personalities offering themselves as alternatives to traditional presidential aspirants.
Perlas called some aspirants as friends, referring to Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio, Isabela Governor Grace Padaca and Olongapo City Councilor John Carlos De Los Reyes of the Ang Kapatiran Party.
He said he had spoken to Panlilio and Padaca about his plan. But while "their expertise on specific areas are limited to the local level," Perlas said he had spent 10 years "briefing policy makers abroad," thus giving him foreign policy experience.
He is open to a "selection process" to unite the so-called Third Force "as long as the process is credible." Perlas added: "It will be fantastic if we can unite."
If elected, he said he would focus on poverty reduction by eliminating corruption to be able to attract local and foreign investments.
Filipinos, even among the poor, have an "entrepreneurial spirit," he said, citing his experience as chair of Lifebank, a micro-finance company that so far served some 230,000 people.
He chose to pursue agriculture in college at the Xavier University instead of his other option, nuclear physics, so he could work closer with the poor. He earned his master's degree in environmental science at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños.
Although his brother, Jun, served as Quezon City councilor during the Marcos Regime, Perlas never ran for any elective position.
But expressed confidence that "if the people will see we are different in our agenda and in our processes, they will be excited."
The election of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV in 2007 even if he was in jail for a foiled coup was a "symptom that people are willing to act," he said.
Popular actor Cesar Montano and biggest election spenders Prospero Pichay and Luis "Chavit" Singson lost the election, Perlas noted.
He would choose his running mate based on the response he would get after his formal announcement on Wednesday. He is also inviting people to visit his website www.nicanorperlas.com, created specifically for his bid, to examine his qualifications.
Perlas is a multi-awarded activist who was part of the civil society coalition that helped oust President Joseph Estrada in 2001, and who called for the resignation and impeachment of Arroyo at the height of the "Hello Garci" election fraud scandal in 2005.