By Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) - A court in the Philippines on Friday ordered a major television network to stop airing an attack advertisement that featured small children questioning the morals of presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte, three days before an election.
Though negative political advertisements are common in many countries, they are a rare in the Philippines and unseen in a presidential election.
The 30-second clip on top broadcaster ABS-CBN showed children questioning Duterte's suitability as a president, spliced with video clips of him cursing the Pope, vowing to kill people and joking about rape.
"These advertisements do manifestly oppose a candidate and thus the court cannot allow minor children to be used in such black propaganda," said the ruling by the court in Taguig, southeast of Manila.
It was aired just as the final major opinion poll ahead of Monday's vote was published and showed Duterte, a maverick southern mayor, widening his lead, with 33 percent of respondents in the Social Weather Station survey backing him. Grace Poe was second with 22 percent.
"On the presidential level this is unprecedented," Bong Osorio an academic and public relations expert, said of the commercial. "More than desperation, this speaks of a very close contest."
"There are still undecided, so there are still people who can be swayed," Osorio said.
ABS-CBN, the country's biggest broadcaster, said the advertisement was "legitimate". The network has links to President Benigno Aquino, who is backing the candidacy of his interior minister, Manuel Roxas.
Aquino's sister until March had a regular show on the network, while Roxas's wife has a weekly program.
Two rival networks issued statements saying they declined to show the commercial because it did not meet their requirements.
It was paid for by Senator Antonio Trillanes, a candidate for the vice presidency. Vice presidents are elected separately from presidents.
He started attacking Duterte a week ago, calling near-daily news conferences alleging he had hid 211 million pesos ($4.47 million) in assets, created fictitious jobs and has ties with Marxist radicals, all of which Duterte denies.
Trillanes says it is his mission to stop him.
Ramon Casiple, head of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said it was unlikely the advertisement would have an impact on the vote.
"It will not affect his campaign. Too late," he said.
Peter Lavina, a spokesman for Duterte, said vicious attacks were expected, but added "the use of children was foul".
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)