MANILA • A Philippine mayor who built a reputation for fighting crime apologised yesterday for a rape comment that caused a political storm and could dent his chances of winning the presidency in an election three weeks away.
Mr Rodrigo Duterte, who is the front runner according to opinion polls, issued a statement saying he regretted the remark about an Australian woman who was raped and killed in a prison riot in 1989. The video of his comment, made at a recent rally, appeared on YouTube at the weekend and he had until yesterday refused to apologise.
His comment sounded like a joke when he spoke of the attractiveness of the rape victim and it caused a public outcry that experts said could cost him votes.
"I apologise to the Filipino people for my recent remarks," said Mr Duterte, who is the first presidential candidate 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."
...FOR THIS JOKE
I was mad she was raped but she was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first.
MR DUTERTE, about an Australian woman who was raped and killed in a prison riot in 1989. He made this remark at a recent rally.
Independent pollster Pulse Asia yesterday released a survey taken before the remark, which showed that Mr Duterte had widened his lead over his nearest rival to seven percentage points. He was the top choice of 32 per cent of the 4,000 respondents in the April 5 to 10 survey, up two percentage points from the last poll late last month.
"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 per cent. Philippine Vice-President Jejomar Binay had 20 per cent. Both were unchanged from the previous poll.
President Benigno Aquino's hand-picked successor, Mr Manuel Roxas, was at 18 per cent, dropping one percentage point.
Pulse Asia has planned four more surveys, including one a week before the May 9 election, Mr Holmes said. "By that time, we will have a clearer picture on who may be the next president."
I apologise to the Filipino people for my recent remarks. 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.
MR RODRIGO DUTERTE, the front runner in the upcoming Philippine presidential polls.
The head of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, joined a chorus of people criticising Mr Duterte.
He posted the video on social media, telling the faithful: "Please watch the video and judge for yourself. I will keep my own judgment to myself."
Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely joined the critics, saying in a statement on Twitter: "Rape and murder should never be joked about or trivialised. Violence against women and girls is unacceptable any time, anywhere."
About 54 million Filipinos are eligible to vote in the election, 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 Mr Aquino.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE