[MANILA] Rodrigo Duterte jumped further ahead in the Philippine presidential race, according to a new poll taken after the tough talking Davao City mayor's inflammatory comments over the 1989 rape and murder of an Australian missionary as the campaign enters its last two weeks.
In the latest poll published by BusinessWorld and conducted by Social Weather Stations April 18 to April 20, Mr Duterte led with 33 per cent compared with 27 per cent in SWS's previous survey. Senator Grace Poe was in second with 24 per cent, while Mar Roxas, the candidate backed by outgoing President Benigno Aquino, was third on 19 per cent. Vice President Jejomar Binay fell to fourth with 14 per cent. The election will be held on May 9.
In Sunday night's third and final televised presidential debate, all candidates pledged to push back against claims by China to disputed islands in the South China Sea. Mr Duterte promised to personally visit the territory to stake his nation's claim if China refuses to accept the outcome of international arbitration at the Hague expected to be handed down in June.
"Should we win the arbitration and China doesn't honor the ruling, I will not go to war," Mr Duterte said. "I will ask the navy to bring me to the nearest boundary near Spratly Scarborough. I will take a jet ski, carrying the Philippine flag and I will go to China's airport and then I will install it and say, This is ours and do what you want with me. It's up to you. I would stake that claim."
Ms Poe said the South China Sea was not China's "personal aquarium," adding that she would provide more boats to the Philippine Coast Guard, and radios to Filipino fishermen going into disputed waters, and would seek more international assistance in maintaining sovereignty.
All candidates also pledged in Sunday's debate to introduce new laws to end the practice of labor outsourcing, or contractualization, and to extend greater assistance to Filipinos working overseas.
The latest poll which shows Mr Duterte - a self-confessed womanizer who minces no words about killing criminals - extending his lead may rattle his rivals who have stuck to conventional campaign rhetoric and disapproved of his stance on women, fighting crime and managing international ties.
Mr Duterte performed poorly in a Bloomberg survey on which candidate would be the best to steer the Philippine economy after Mr Aquino steps down. Mr Roxas and Ms Poe were viewed by the 10 economists surveyed as the most capable of delivering on their promises to lead the nation that's been among the fastest growing in the world with a stock market that's more than doubled since Aquino took office in 2010.
Last week Mr Duterte, 71, a mayor for more than three decades, dared the US and Australia to sever diplomatic ties after ambassadors from both countries strongly condemned comments by Mr Duterte on April 12 that an Australian missionary who was raped and murdered in a 1989 Davao City prison riot was so beautiful that, as mayor, he should have been first in line to rape her.
The mayor's remarks were posted on YouTube and went viral on April 17, attracting front page coverage from many local dailies the next day. After first refusing to step back from the use of what he called "gutter language,'' Mr Duterte's camp later issued an apology for the remarks.
A lawyer who worked as a prosecutor in Davao for nine years before becoming vice mayor in 1986 and mayor two years later, Mr Duterte made his reputation targeting drug traffickers and sexual predators in a broad crackdown on crime. At one point, he told criminals they had two options on how they could leave Davao: vertically or horizontally.
While Mr Duterte was credited for transforming Davao, known as the nation's murder capital in the 1980s, peace and order came at a cost. Human Rights Watch has accused Mr Duterte of giving tacit support to extra judicial killings of more than 1,000 suspected criminals since the late 1990s. Mr Duterte has denied any involvement in the killings.