Manila - Anti-establishment firebrand Rodrigo Duterte was heading Monday for a huge win in the Philippine presidential elections, according to a poll monitor, after an incendiary campaign dominated by his profanity-laced threats to kill criminals.
Duterte, the longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao, had hypnotised millions with his vows of brutal but quick solutions to the nation's twin plagues of crime and poverty, which many believed had worsened despite strong economic growth in recent years.
Duterte had 38.92 percent of the vote, with 63 percent of the total counted, according to the PPCRV, a Catholic Church-run poll monitor accredited by the government to tally the votes.
This was 4.5 million votes, or 16 percentage points, more than his nearest rival, Senator Grace Poe.
"He's almost a sure winner now," prominent political analyst Ramon Casiple told AFP.
Before the results came out, Duterte was already speaking like a winner as he called for rivalries to be put aside following one of the nation's most bitter and divisive campaigns in the Philippines' history.
"I want to reach out my hand and let us begin the healing now," Duterte told reporters in Davao, the nation's third biggest city that he has ruled for most of the past two decades.
Poe had 22.14 percent of the vote, with administration candidate Mar Roxas trailed closely in third, according to the PPCRV.
In the Philippines, a winner is decided simply by whomever gets the most votes.
National media had not called the election for Duterte because it was unclear where the votes tallied so far were from. A region with heavy support for another candidate may not have yet been counted.
Duterte, a pugnacious 71-year-old, surged from outsider to the top of surveys with cuss-filled vows to kill tens of thousands of criminals, threats to establish one-man rule if lawmakers disobeyed him, and promises to embrace communist rebels.
He also boasted repeatedly about his Viagra-fuelled affairs, while promising voters his mistresses would not cost a lot because he kept them in cheap boarding houses and took them to short-stay hotels for sex.
Duterte caused further disgust in international diplomatic circles with a joke that he wanted to rape a "beautiful" Australian missionary who was killed in a 1989 Philippine prison riot, and by calling the pope a "son of a whore".
Departing President Benigno Aquino, whose mother led the democracy movement that ousted Ferdinand Marcos three decades ago, had warned repeatedly the nation was at risk of succumbing to another dictatorship.
"I need your help to stop the return of terror in our land. I cannot do it alone," Aquino said in an appeal to voters in a final rally on Saturday in Manila for his preferred successor and fellow Liberal Party stalwart, Mar Roxas.
In his final rally on Saturday, Duterte repeated to tens of thousands of cheering fans his plans to end crime within six months of starting his presidency.
"Forget the laws on human rights," said Duterte, who has been accused of running vigilante death squads in Davao.
"If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor. You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because as the mayor, I'd kill you." In his comments to reporters on Monday in Davao, Duterte pledged again to kill drug lords and other criminal kingpins, but not petty criminals.
Aquino, who is limited by the constitution to a single term of six years, had overseen average annual economic growth of six percent and won international plaudits for trying to tackle corruption.
However his critics said he had done little to change an economic model that favours an extraordinarily small number of families that control nearly all key industries, and has led to one of Asia's biggest rich-poor divides.
This criticism appeared to have hurt Roxas, a member of the elite.
Another key message of Duterte's campaign was his pledge to take on the elite, even though his vice presidential running mate was from one of the nation's richest and most powerful families.
Poe, the adopted daughter of movie stars, had seen her popularity slide after critics pointed to her taking US citizenship then later giving it up.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, the early favourite, was in a distant fourth place, according to the poll monitor, after crumbling under the weight of a barrage of corruption allegations.
In an intriguing sub-plot, Marcos's son and namesake had a slight lead in the race to be elected vice president, according to the poll monitor, which would cement a remarkable political comeback for his family.