MANILA - Philippine presidential front runner Rodrigo Duterte was leading in early unofficial results on Monday (May 9) after voting for the country's general election closed in most areas at 5pm.
As at 5.43pm, with just four per cent counted, the results showed the anti-establishment firebrand coming ahead of his rivals with 631,814 votes, the GMA News website reported. Former interior minister Mar Roxas was in second, with 360,198 votes and Senator Grace Poe at No. 3, with 358,596.
Opinion polls, as well as street and online chatter, have all pointed to Mr Duterte, 71, winning the polls to succeed Mr Benigno Aquino, whose six-year term ends on June 30.
Mr Duterte had earlier appeared relaxed when he turned out to vote, although he said he was not celebrating victory just yet.
"I am not positive [that I will win the race]. I'm telling you: I ain't there until I am there," the tough-talking mayor told reporters after casting his vote in the southern city of Davao which he has run since 1988, reported Rappler.com.
He 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 laces with crude humour and profanities.
His detractors, including incumbent President Benigno Aquino, have warned that a Duterte victory may mark the return of dictatorial rule in the Philippines.
Mr Duterte extended an olive branch to his four opponents in a post-voting press conference.
"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."
He sounded confident about his chances, noting that he has yet to taste defeat since he started to run for public office.
“This will be my 11th election in my life, I never experienced defeat. Maybe this time, if it’s God’s will. But If I win I’ll do my job,” he said.
More than 54 million Filipinos began voting at 6am on Monday for a new president as well as more than 18,000 represetatives in the Senate, House of Representatives and local governments right down to the village level.
Polls was to close at 5pm for most districts, and at 6pm for some precincts where voting began at 9am, the election commission announced late Monday afternoon. 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.
Incumbent President Aquino cast his vote at a school in Tarlac City, Central Luzon region, at about 10am.
One of Mr Duterte's main rivals, Senators Grace Poe, cast her vote with her husband Neil Llamanzares at a school in San Juan City, but not before visiting the tomb of her late father, action star Fernando Poe Jr., at the Manila North Cemetery.
Mr Poe also ran for president in 2004 but lost to Mrs Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Ms Poe admitted she felt nervous on election eve. But that anxiety turned to peace on Monday, she said according to Rappler.com.
"Yesterday, I was a bit nervous because this is the very first time, of course it's just now that I ran for president... but now I'm at peace and happy," she was quoted as saying.
Another close Duterte rival, former interior minister Mar Roxas, was also mobbed by supporters in the central Capiz city as he cast his vote at a school with his wife Korina, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
As voting got underway, there were reports of glitches in some vote counting machines, including those that will be used in Makati, the country's top financial district, and in Naga city in the Bicol region where Vice-Presidential candidate Leni Robredo waited for two hours before getting to cast her vote.
More than 90,000 vote-counting machines will be used in the elections.
Violence had been reported in the lead-up to the polls. Seven people were shot dead and another was wounded when a convoy of vehicles was ambushed in in the town of Rosario, south of the capital Manila, just hours before polls opened, police said.
The motive for the attack was not yet known. However the incident took place in the province of Cavite which has been identified by election officials as an “area of concern” due to heated political rivalries, said Chief Inspector Jonathan del Rosario, spokesman of a special election violence monitoring task force.
At least 50 people had been killed in election-related violence since Jan 10, said Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor.
Macho swagger, crime-fighting record bolster Duterte's bid
Mr Duterte's profanities-laced speeches, macho swagger, tales of his exploits as Davao's de facto sheriff, and promises like ending crime in six months by killing tens of thousands of criminals have seen him race ahead in opinion polls.
The former prosecutor now enjoys 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.
He has vowed to shake up the establishment, with plans like amending the Constitution to dismantle cartels by letting in more foreign players and turning the government into a union of semi-autonomous regions.
He has threatened to dissolve Congress if it gets in his way and to roll back attempts to unseat him with a military-backed uprising by creating a "revolutionary government".
President Aquino, who is stepping down because of the top job's single-term limit, has warned voters that Mr Duterte could be a dictator in the making, and likened him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
"We have begun to walk and surely that would be followed with a run. But we couldn't sprint forward if we step back, if we take a U-turn back to the style of martial law," he said.
In their closing rallies, Ms Poe, Mr Roxas and Mr Binay pinned their hopes of pulling an upset on Mr Duterte on the "silent majority".
In yet another throwback to martial rule, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son and namesake of the late dictator who plundered the Philippines for over 20 years, is poised to become vice-president.
He is in a dead heat with Representative Leni Robredo, widow of a popular Cabinet minister and Mr Aquino's bet.
At a news conference, Mr Marcos claimed there had been "massive vote-buying in various parts of the country".
Election watchdog Lente said in a press statement that its volunteers noted various cases of election rule violations. In Lipa, some residents were given sacks of rice accompanied by money anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 pesos (S$43-87), said Lente in a report by Rappler.com.
The group said fingers of these voters are then stained with indelible ink upon receipt.
Commenting on the vote-buying, Mr Duterte was quoted by Rappler as saying: "You can't do anything about it. I don't have money anyway. I won't be monitoring."