Philippine presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte has apologized for joking about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary. The politician is making ground on a sometimes-profane "straight-talking" platform.
Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte (C) shakes hands with supporters outside a hotel in Manila on November 30, 2015
Duterte's comments were shown on a video posted to YouTube telling supporters last week. He said than when he saw that a female Australian lay minister had been raped and murdered during a Philippine prison riot in 1989, his initial reaction was: "She was so beautiful. I thought, the mayor should have been first."
Following domestic and international condemnation, Duterte - longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao - initially refused to apologize after the video was posted on April 16.
"I apologize to the Filipino people for my recent remarks at a rally," he said in a statement issued Tuesday. "There was no intention of disrespecting our women and those who have been victims of this horrible crime," it read.
"Sometimes my mouth can get the better of me," Duterte conceded.
However, he also went on to defend some of his other stronger statements, saying: "I will not apologize for the things I've done to protect our people, especially the weak and defenseless, from crime."
Many Filipinos support Duterte precisely because of his "straight-talking" speeches and his promises to get tough on crime, for example a pledge to oversee the mass-killing of criminals if elected.
Poll leader, albeit before this scandal
On Tuesday, a Pulse Asia survey showed Duterte ahead of other presidential candidates, with 32 percent, compared to 25 percent from second-placed Senator Grace Poe. Vice President Jejomar Binay was in third place with 20 percent, followed by administration candidate Mar Roxas with 18 percent. The survey was conducted before the furore over Duterte's rape remark.
"No matter how you look at it, the comment will diminish his numbers," said political analyst Edna Co. "He needs to be careful and be respectful of the electorate."
More than 54 million Filipinos are registered to vote for a new president, vice president, 12 senators, hundreds of congressional representatives and tens of thousands of local officials on May 9.
jbh/msh (AFP, dpa)