Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte has apologised on Tuesday for a rape comment that caused a political storm and could dent his chances of winning the presidency in an election three weeks away.
The candidate, who opinion polls show as the frontrunner, issued a statement saying he regretted the remark about an Australian nun who was raped and killed in a prison riot in 1989. (See our report here.) The video of his comment, made at a recent rally, appeared on YouTube last weekend.
His comment appeared to be a joke and made reference to the attractiveness of the murdered rape victim. It has since caused a public outcry that experts said could cost him votes.
“I apologise to the Filipino people for my recent remarks,” said Duterte, who is the first presidential candidate to hail from the southern island of Mindanao.
“There was no intention of disrespecting our women and those who have been victims of this horrible crime. Sometimes my mouth can get the better of me. My life is an open book. I am a man of many flaws and contradictions,” he added.
On Tuesday, independent pollster Pulse Asia released a survey taken before the remark, which showed Duterte had widened his lead over his nearest rival to seven points.
Duterte was the top choice of 32 percent of the 4,000 respondents in the April 5-10 survey, up two points from the last poll in late March.
“We still don’t know what will be the effect on his numbers in the next survey after his rape comments,” Pulse Asia president Ronald Holmes told Reuters.
“Definitely, it will have an impact, so it is still premature to predict a winner.”
The survey showed Senator Grace Poe in second place with 25 percent and Vice President Jejomar Binay had 20 percent. Both were unchanged from the previous poll.
President Benigno Aquino’s hand-picked successor, Manuel Roxas was at 18 percent, dropping one point.
Pulse Asia plans four more surveys, including one a week before the May 9 elections.
“By that time, we will have a clearer picture on who may be the next president.”
About 54 million Filipinos are eligible to vote in the elections, which will be closely watched by investors, some of whom fear the political succession in one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies could impact gains made under Aquino.