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Tough talking Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who courted controversy over remarks made about the gang rape and murder of an Australian missionary, has raced to the top spot in the latest presidential opinion poll in the Philippines.

Duterte also issued an official apology for making disparaging comments about the rape and murder of Australian missionary in a Philippines prison in 1989.

"I apologize to the Filipino people for my recent remarks in a rally. 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," he said.

Duterte had initially refused to offer apology, saying he will not say sorry for a mistake he did not commit.

"They did it ahead of the mayor. Kill them all," the viral footage showed the leading candidate in the May 9 presidential election saying.

"This one, she is so beautiful, she looks like an actress. W***e of a mother! They did it ahead of me, kill them all," the Inquirer translated the comment made by Duterte in native language.

He had also said he would not issue an apology even if that cost him the presidency. However, in the latest move he sought to rebrand himself saying he will do whatever it takes to protect women, children and families "from the horrors and disorder of crime."

"I know what it can do to the victims and their families. The anguish and pain they cause. The trauma that can't be erased. I have witnessed these myself numerous times. This is why I am angry. I am angry because horrendous things like this continue to happen to our women and children all over our land," the presidential aspirant said.

The Pulse Asia pre-election survey, which was released just three weeks before the election, showed controversial candidate Duterte leading the pack with 32 percent support among the respondents.

The PDP-Laban leader pushed frontrunner Grace Poe to the second spot. Poe won the support of 25 percent of respondents. The latest survey was conducted between April 5 and 10, a week before Duterte's comments on the rape victim raised a hailstorm of criticism and lampoon.

At the third spot in the survey were Vice President Jejomar Binay of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and Liberal Party's Manuel Roxas II. They secured 20 percent and 18 percent support, respectively.

The poll commissioned by ABS-CBN took responses from as many as 4,000 registered voters. The election to replace president Acquino will take place on May 9.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ferdinand 'Bongbong' Marcos took the lead in the vice presidential polls despite his running mate's fortunes taking a hit.

IBTimes UK