Philippines election: Duterte keeps clear lead over Grace Poe in heated four-way race

Former frontrunner Grace Poe is pushed to second spot with 22 percent of support.

Leading Philippines presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte has pushed former frontrunner Senator Grace Poe to a distant second position in the latest opinion survey.

The Davao City Mayor, who carved out the image of a straight-talking leader unafraid to embrace controversies, is looking set to march to the Malacañang Palace after the May 9 elections.

With less than two weeks to go before the polls, Duterte enjoys the support of as much as 33 percent of 4,000 respondents who participated in the latest Pulse Asia survey.

Senator Grace Poe, who led the campaign in its initial stages, is now staring at impossible odds, with only 22 percent supporting her.

She is virtually tied at the second spot with Liberal Party standard-bearer Manuel Roxas, who has the support of 20 percent of prospective voters.

Vice President Jejomar Binay is at the fourth position with 18 percent of support, completing the picture of a heated four-way race.

The survey, which was commissioned by ABS-CBN, was conducted between April 19 and 24.

This is significant because it shows the voters were not driven away from him after the controversy over his remarks about the rape and murder of an Australian missionary.

Local and foreign media had lambasted Duterte for saying that, as mayor, he should have been the first to rape the missionary, who was killed in a prison.

The tough talking mayor, who has a penchant for speaking about his sex life and mistresses, connects a chord with the rural voters by portraying himself as an ordinary person.

He also appeals to the nation's rich and middle classes by adopting a tough stance against crime. He courted controversy this week by saying he will order the killing of criminals in their thousands and promising to let the officers off hook for talking the law into their hands.

He even said he will pardon himself for the killing of criminals if he comes to power.

While Duterte has 58 percent support in Mindanao, he also shares the top spot in metro Manila along with Grace Poe.