Geraldine Roman
Geraldine Roman (L) greets a voter during a campaign trip to the town of Orani, Bataan province, north of Manila Ted Aljibe/Getty

As voters in the Philippines prepare to head to the polls on 9 May to elect officials for a number of public posts, one politician in particular is garnering significant attention. As she battles to win a seat in the nation's lower house, Geraldine Roman, 49, has already made history by becoming the first transgender woman to run for public office in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

Religion continues to play a key political role in a country where divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage are illegal and the law prevents transgender Filipinos from changing their name and sex. By becoming the first transgender politician in the Philippines, Roman is hoping to change attitudes towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

"That somebody of my condition is going to enter Congress for the first time is a statement that even transgender people can serve our country and should not be discriminated against," Roman told AFP news agency.

A defiant Roman added that if elected, she would campaign to overturn the rules surrounding gender change. "I am living proof that such a law will allow transgender people to pursue happiness and become productive citizens," she said.

Roman has received staunch support from her politically entrenched family as she seeks to succeed her mother, Herminia Roman as congresswoman for the Bataan province. Herminia Roman abandoned her ambitions for vice governorship in the region late last year to boost her daughter's campaign, saying it was "because of the Catholic Church's unsupportive stance on transgender sexuality".

Her parents' popularity amongst the poor in the area appears to bode well for Roman, whose plans include boosting infrastructure and delivering updated medical equipment to hospitals. "She is also a human being," said Bern Salenga, a local farmer who plans to support Roman in the upcoming elections. "We all have rights. It's not an issue to me that she is transgender."

In a thinly veiled swipe at her religious critics, Roman had a simple parting message. She said: "If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that."

On 9 May, Filipinos will head to the polls for presidential elections. Some 12 Senate seats will also be contested as well as all governor, mayoral and city and municipal council posts. There are 54.4m registered voters in a nation of 101m people.