Hardliner poised to lead Philippines

Media captionRodrigo Duterte has a persuasive story to tell, Jonathan Head reports

Hardline anti-crime candidate Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte looks set to become president of the Philippines after polls gave him an unassailable lead.

Mr Duterte, who stirred controversy during campaigning with his incendiary comments, said he accepted the apparent mandate with “extreme humility”.

An accredited poll monitor said he led with most ballots counted, but this does not represent an official tally.

The 71-year-old credited his success to his tough stance on law and order.

His record as the crime-crushing mayor of the southern town of Davao, once notorious for its lawlessness, earned him the moniker The Punisher and resonated with voters.

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Other driving issues of the election campaign were pervasive corruption, as well as the poverty and inequality experienced by many Filipinos despite economic growth under outgoing President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

‘I will do my best’

Election officials have said there was a record turnout at polling stations, with more than 81% of the 54 million registered voters casting a ballot.

The vice president looks likely to be Leni Robredo, a social activist who is currently slightly ahead of Bongbong Marcos, the son of a former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Senators and about 18,000 local officials including mayors are also being elected.

The PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) poll monitor said that with 90% of the presidential ballots counted, Mr Duterte had more than 14.8m votes – about 39%. The PPCRV is accredited by the election commission to monitor counting but its reporting does not represent an official tally.

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Grace Poe said it was time to give Mr Duterte “a chance”

Manuel Roxas is in second place with 9m (23%). The winner is decided on a simple majority of votes cast

Senator Grace Poe had been considered a frontrunner but looked set for third place. She has conceded defeat, promising to “co-operate with the healing process” after a turbulent campaign.

“Duterte has a mandate. Let’s give him a chance,” she said.

‘Extreme humility’

Mr Aquino is standing down as the constitution limits presidents to one six-year term.

As Mr Duterte rose in opinion polls ahead of voting, Mr Aquino had tried to unite other candidates against him, warning his election could mean a return to dictatorship for the Philippines.

But on Monday, as his lead extended, Mr Duterte told AFP news agency: “It’s with humility, extreme humility, that I accept this, the mandate of the people.”

“What I can promise you is that I will do my very best not just in my waking hours but even in my sleep,” he said.

Mr Duterte has made many controversial statements during his campaign, saying that he would massacre criminals and drug-users, joking about the rape of an Australian missionary and saying he would dissolve congress if it didn’t agree with him.

He has also given forthright opinions on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, saying he would sail to disputed islands and plant the Philippine flag there.

The Philippines has taken one of its claims to a court of arbitration at the Hague. On Monday, he said he would seek multilateral talks over the issue, to include the US and Japan.

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