By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine presidential hopeful Rodrigo Duterte stuck to his guns on Sunday amid outrage over a remark he made about a murdered rape victim, saying he regretted his "gutter language" but would not apologize for being misinterpreted.
A YouTube video appeared over the weekend showing Duterte speaking at a recent rally where he recalled his experience of being a local mayor during a 1989 prison riot in which an Australian missionary visiting the jail was raped and killed.
The video clip showed Duterte, 71, telling supporters he was angry that a "beautiful" woman had been murdered. He said inmates had lined up to rape her and it was a "waste" because as mayor, he should have been first.
The clip spread quickly on social media and prompted outrage from women's groups and politicians.
Duterte, who has been mayor of the southern Davao City on and off since 1986, tops the latest opinion polls ahead of the May 9 presidential election, helped largely by his anti-crime platform.
Duterte on Sunday told television reporters he would not say sorry - even if it cost him the presidency - for what he had said back in 1989 to an audience of criminals in "street language" they understood.
"I said it in the heat of anger," he said.
"I'm sorry in general. I'm sorry to the Filipino people, it's my style, it's my mouth, I said it in anger - listen to the story behind it."
He added: "It was not a joke. I said it in a narrative. I wasn't smiling."
Duterte's presidential rivals were quick to denounce him. Grace Poe, a senator seen as his biggest challenger, said his words were "distasteful and unacceptable".
"No-one, whoever she is and whatever her looks may be, deserves to be raped and abused. Rape is a crime and no laughing matter," she said in a statement.
Manuel Roxas, who is backed by President Benigno Aquino, said Duterte had a "bestial attitude" towards women.
"Anyone who laughs at the ultimate assault on the dignity of women should not be allowed to wield power," Roxas said.
But Duterte's tough, no-nonsense rhetoric has struck a chord with many Filipinos. The country's two biggest opinion polls last week saw him replace Poe in the lead.
Duterte has promised to end crime and graft within six months if elected and has spoken of his support for vigilantism and the extra-judicial killing of criminals in his city.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Andrew Bolton)