MANILA - A tough-talking, seven-term mayor, who has built a reputation for fighting crime in the insurgency-plagued southern Philippines, has become favourite to succeed President Benigno Aquino in May elections, an opinion poll showed on Monday.
Rodrigo Duterte, 70, mayor of Davao City, was the top-rated contender for 38 per cent of 1,200 respondents, the Social Weather Stations poll said.
Senator Grace Poe, who topped surveys in June and September, slid down to second spot with 21 per cent in a tie with Vice President Jejomar Binay, who led opinion polls early this year. Poe had 26 per cent support in September and Binay had 24 per cent.
Poe last week was barred for running because she fails to meet the 10-year residency requirement but she is hopeful that decision will be reversed on appeal.
The elections will be closely watched by investors, who fear the political succession in one of Asia's fastest-growing economies could derail gains made during Aquino's rule.
Under Aquino, the Philippines has seen annual economic growth of more than six per cent on average, its best five-year record in four decades. He has also battled to rein in corruption.
About 54 million Filipinos are eligible to vote to choose a president, vice president and more than 18,000 local government executives and lawmakers in the general elections, which happen every six years.
Aquino's chosen successor, former interior minister Manuel "Mar" Roxas, was fourth in the poll, falling from 20 per cent support in September to 15 per cent.
Political analysts said the rise in support for Duterte could be attributed to his anti-crime crusade. As mayor, Duterte has turned around the reputation of Davao, once one of the most crime-plagued cities in the country.