MANILA - Philippine presidential front runner Rodrigo Duterte appeared poised for victory on Monday (May 9), according to unofficial results, signalling that his promises to end crime and corruption and shake up a system that many believe has favoured the rich may have resounded with voters.
As at 11.44pm, with about 78 per cent of votes counted, the results showed the anti-establishment firebrand taking a commanding lead with 13.2 million votes, the GMA News website reported, citing data from the election commission.
Trailing him at a distant second was former interior minister Mar Roxas, 58, with 7.8 million votes and Senator Grace Poe, 47, who struggled to hang on to her slim lead over Mr Roxas as results poured in late Monday. She came in No.3 with a total of 7.5 million votes.
Late Monday, Mr Duterte told reporters Ms Poe had phoned him to tell him she was conceding the race.
"We did everything we can. I am Grace Poe. I am conceding to Rodrigo Duterte who is clearly in the lead and has been chosen by our countrymen," Ms Poe later said at a press conference. "I respect the results of the elections. I congratulate Rodrigo Duterte and promise to join him as he seeks to heal our nation."
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Mr Roxas said he would make a statement on Tuesday but did not elaborate.
Mr Duterte's other opponents were Vice-President Jejomar Binay, 73, with 4.5 million votes, and Senator Miriam Santiago, 70, with 1.3 million.
Other major news outlets carried similar results.
Opinion polls, as well as street and online chatter had all pointed to Mr Duterte, the 71-year-old mayor of the southern city of Davao, claiming the presidency.
Mr Duterte sounded a cautious note when asked on CNN Philippines about the early results. "I ain't there until I am there," AFP quoted him as saying. "If it is my destiny to be there then I accept it."
In the vice-presidential race, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr was leading with 11.9 million votes, with congresswoman Leni Robredo coming in second with 11.4 million. Mr Marcos is the son and namesake of the late Filipino dictator who plundered the Philippines for over 20 years and a victory for him would cement a remarkable political comeback for his family.
More than 55 million registered Filipino voters cast their ballots when voting began at 6am to elect a new president as well as more than 18,000 representatives in the Senate, House of Representatives and local governments right down to the village level.
Polls closed at 5pm for most districts, and an hour later for some precincts where voting began at 9am, the election commission announced late Monday. It said a new president may be declared as early as Wednesday and all winners for the national posts will be known within 72 hours or by Thursday.
Violence had been reported in the lead-up to the polls. At least 10 people were killed after gunmen attacked polling stations, ambushed vehicles and stole vote counting machines, police said. However, the election went largely smoothly, with problems at voting machines affecting only a few dozen polling stations.
Mr Duterte had campaigned on an anti-establishment platform of fighting crime with violence and attracted tens of thousands to his rallies where he enthralled them with speeches laced with crude humour and profanities.
The former prosecutor now enjoys a cult-like following among millions frustrated that despite a people's uprising in 1986 and five presidents in its wake, prosperity has yet to trickle down to the masses, and corruption and crime continues to blight daily life.
His detractors, including incumbent President Benigno Aquino, have warned that a Duterte victory may mark the return of dictatorial rule in the Philippines.
In their closing rallies, his rivals pinned their chances to pull an upset on Mr Duterte on the "silent majority".
But in a press conference held shortly after voting, Mr Duterte extended an olive branch to his four opponents .
"I would like to reach my hands to my opponents. Let us begin the healing now," he told reporters gathered at a hotel, media reports said. "We are responsible for the security of this nation. We are responsible for the integrity of this country."
In separate comments to the media stating his views on foreign policy, among other issues, Mr Duterte said if he became president, he would call for multilateral talks to resolve disputes over the South China Sea. Those talks should also include the United States and Japan as well as rival claimants, Reuters reported him as saying.
Mr Duterte also said China should respect the Philippines’exclusive economic zone in the waters off its coast and, instead of facing off, the two countries could work together in exploiting offshore oil and gas as joint-venture partners. “If we want joint ventures, fine. I believe in sharing,” he told reporters in the southern city of Davao.
He also said he would seek to ease restrictions on foreign ownership in all industries, except with regard to the ownership of land.
Meanwhile, a report by ratings agency S&P Global on Monday said a Duterte presidency would create uncertainty, especially if he picks fights with the political elite, Reuters reported. “He could take some time getting used to the many compromises required in the national leadership position,” it said.