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MORALITY IS NOW THE HOTTEST TOPIC IN THE PHILIPPINE PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Sex is adding spice to the Philippine election campaign, with Manila's gossip-mongers and press having a field day about alleged extramarital affairs of candidates battling for the presidency.

President Corazon Aquino this week turned the morality of candidates into a hot campaign issue for the May polls by raising the question of philandering spouses.Manila's coffeeshops are brimming with rumors about the supposed mistresses and illegitimate children of some politicians.

The sex lives of Philippine officials are often a poorly guarded secret, but few politicians are publicly willing to exploit their rivals' lapses for fear of provoking a salvo of counter-revelations.

While Philippine politics owes much to the U.S. system, public admission of marital infidelity is one area in which Manila's politicians are not keen to follow their American counterparts.

"Anything below the belt should be the concern of no one but me and my wife," said Philippine Vice President Salvador Laurel, leader of the mainstream opposition Nacionalista Party.

The 59-year-old president helped fan the issue by saying during a television program that while cheating husbands may be a fact of life, candidates should ensure these liaisons are terminated if they become president.