MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine leader Friday made a desperate call on presidential candidates to agree to an alliance to defeat a front-running mayor he describes as a threat to democracy.
President Benigno Aquino III said the 30 percent lead of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in surveys could be overcome if his trailing rivals, mainly former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Sen. Grace Poe, could unite.
Aquino did not elaborate but he was insinuating that some of the candidates trailing Duterte in opinion surveys can back out and support a single aspirant to surmount Duterte's lead.
"Instead of thinking about what shall we do if everything he says is exactly what he tells to do, why don't we remove that problem or that threat or that insecurity by uniting the 70 and defeating the 30?" Aquino told CNN Philippines in an interview.
"The whole point is, any two of them unites... we have more than 40 percent. It defeats the 30 percent," Aquino said.
Five candidates are seeking the presidency in Monday's elections, and the winner will be whoever gets the most votes, even if no one gets a majority.
In a news conference, Roxas called on Poe to agree to meet and discuss unifying, but she rejected outright any arrangement for her to leave the race.
"We can talk anytime," Poe said. "But I'm saying early on that if they're thinking of talking to convince one of us to withdraw, I will not back out."
Roxas called Poe's rejection of his offer to meet and talk about possible unity "unfortunate."
"I repeat, what is at stake here are important: democracy, the economy, jobs and the welfare of our country," Roxas said.
Another candidate, Vice President Jejomar Binay also rejected Aquino's call.
The brash Duterte, who has been compared to Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race, has caused alarm with his threats, including of closing Congress if lawmakers try to impeach him if he triumphs in Monday's elections.
Known for expletive-laden speeches, Duterte, 71, built his political name with an iron-fisted approach to fighting crime in Davao, where he has been accused by human rights groups of links to extrajudicial killings.
His bold pledge to eradicate crime, especially drug trafficking and kidnappings, in three to six months has resonated with the public, but also sparked alarm and doubts.
The former government prosecutor remained in the top spot in the most recent polls despite a storm of criticism after he remarked recently that he wished he could have been the first to rape an Australian missionary who was sexually assaulted and killed by inmates in a 1989 prison riot because she was attractive.
When the Australian and U.S. ambassadors commented that rape and such brutal death should not be trivialized, Duterte told them to shut up. Reacting to a reporter's question, he expressed openness to severe ties with the U.S. and Australia if the two countries would initiate such a move.
A Philippine senator has filed a corruption complaint against Duterte, alleging that the mayor of southern Davao city hired 11,000 non-existent employees whose salaries cost the government 708 million ($15 million).
Duterte also allegedly kept wealth in a joint bank account with his daughter that he did not declare publicly in 2014 as required by law.
The mayor has denied committing any wrongdoing.