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By Vince Alvic A. F. Nonato, Reporter

Duterte pulls away despite rape talk flap

Posted on April 25, 2016

CONTROVERSIAL Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte has widened his lead over rival presidential candidates, according to a new Social Weather Stations (SWS) pre-election survey taken amid the uproar over his rape joke involving an Australian lay minister killed in a 1989 prison riot.

Philippine presidential front-runner candidate Rodrigo Duterte (R) states his political platforms during a campaign in Manila on April 23, 2016. AFP
The same survey saw Camarines Sur 3rd District Rep. Maria Leonor G. Robredo catching up with vice-presidential frontrunner Senator Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.

Mr. Duterte posted a voter preference rating of 33%, according to a survey of 1,800 validated voters interviewed on April 18-20 (with sampling error margins of ±2 points). This was up six points from the 27% seen in the March 30-April 2 face-to-face survey, when he first snatched the lead from erstwhile frontrunner Sen. Grace Poe.

In comparison, Ms. Poe’s standing steadied at 24% from 23% in the previous survey.

Administration standard bearer former Interior secretary Manuel A. Roxas II overtook Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay, a former frontrunner whose popularity has significantly eroded as opponents linked him or members of his family to purportedly irregular deals. Messrs. Roxas and Binay each scored 19% and 14%, respectively, from 18% and 20% previously.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago continued to trail behind at 2%, slightly lower than the 3% she posted previously.

The survey was conducted a day after his rape joke during a sortie became publicly known. A video circulating on social media showed Mr. Duterte feigning regret for not getting to rape Australian missionary Jacqueline Hamill himself.

Sought for comment, University of Santo Tomas political science professor Edmund S. Tayao said the latest survey was “not yet conclusive” as to the impact of Mr. Duterte’s rape remarks, since the field survey ended April 20.

Mr. Tayao noted that Mr. Duterte “made other remarks” as the controversy dragged on in the past week. He cited a later incident when the mayor joked about persons with disabilities.

He also cited the mayor’s April 21 dare for the United States and Australia to “go ahead and sever” diplomatic ties should he become president, after the two countries’ ambassadors cautioned against joking about rape.

Still, Mr. Tayao noted that Mr. Duterte “connects easily with the common people because he talks like an ordinary individual.” The mayor’s “strong personality,” he said “either draws people more to him or away from him because his personality is not moderate.”

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For his part, Mr. Duterte’s spokesperson Peter Tiu Laviña said “this is most encouraging result given that the black propaganda against Duterte intensified during this period.”

“This only affirms the strong clamor of our people for genuine change. Duterte has become a rallying symbol for all classes -- poor, middle and rich -- long fed up with ‘trapos’ messing up our country. We shall make use of the support of our people as inspiration to ensure their victory on May 9,” Mr. Laviña said in a text message, using the Filipino word for “rag” that has been adopted to refer to “traditional politicians”.

The same survey showed the race for the vice-presidency has become close, with Ms. Robredo leaping seven points to 26%, similar to Mr. Marcos’s 25%.

At the same time, early frontrunner Senator Francis Joseph G. Escudero fell further to third place with an 18% rating, while Senator Alan Peter S. Cayetano was close by with 16%.

Senators Antonio F. Trillanes IV and Gregorio B. Honasan II rounded up the roster with 5% and 2%, respectively.

Mr. Tayao noted that if there’s anything in common between Ms. Robredo and Mr. Marcos, “it’s their constantly improving numbers.”

As for the administration candidate, Mr. Tayao said Ms. Robredo “managed to actively communicate her capacity and policy preferences with the recent debate and, most likely, her strategic campaign.”

“Given more time, Rep. Leni can significantly match the numbers of Senator Marcos. But you’re talking of two weeks. I don’t know if that would be still enough for her,” he said in a phone interview.

Akbayan Rep. Ibarra M. Gutierrez, the administration coalition’s spokesman, said in a text message: “The last survey shows that our base is solid and standing strong. We are confident we can deliver the votes for Mar and Leni come May 9.”

The March 30-April 2 poll showed Mr. Marcos’ 26% rating edging out Mr. Escudero for the first time, with the latter garnering 21% while Ms. Robredo got 19%.

Mr. Escudero once held a slim lead over Mr. Marcos, who first came neck-and-neck with him beginning January before pushing him out of first place during the March 30-April 2 survey.

In the meantime, Ms. Robredo managed to creep slowly upwards, as she hovered in the high teens.

The same survey also showed that reelectionist Senate President Franklin M. Drilon (Liberal Party, or LP, backing Mr. Roxas) and Senator Vicente C. Sotto III (Nationalist People’s Coalition, or NPC, backing independent Ms. Poe) are still in the running for the top two seats in the Senate out of the 12 up for grabs on May 9.

They were followed by celebrity boxer Sarangani Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao of Mr. Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance. He placed third in the survey, which was conducted after his successful April 9 fight against Timothy Ray Bradley, Jr. While the incumbent Sarangani representative was criticized for his absenteeism and lackluster legislative performance, Mr. Pacquiao previously placed fifth to seventh before his match with Mr. Bradley.

Rounding up the top 11 were four administration candidates and four independents, including reelectionist Sergio R. Osmeña III who has figured in the ongoing Senate investigation on the money laundering case involving $81 million stolen from Bangladesh Bank’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last February that were promptly wired to a Philippine bank and used in casinos.

Reelectionist Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto (LP) is tied at 12th-13th place with Valenzuela City 1st District Rep. Sherwin T. Gatchalian (NPC). The sole reelectionist not to make it to the top 12, Senator Teofisto D. Guingona III (LP) -- who heads the committee conducting the Senate’s money laundering probe -- placed 14th.