Presidential candidate Rodrigo "Digong" Duterte wipes perspiration on his face beside an aide during election campaigning in Malabon, Metro Manila in the Philippines April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro(reuters_tickers)
By Enrico Dela Cruz and Manuel Mogato
MANILA (Reuters) - Outgoing Philippine leader Benigno Aquino on Friday weighed in on the contest to replace him by urging presidential candidates to join forces and stop maverick mayor Rodrigo Duterte from winning next week's election.
Aquino's revelation of his last-gasp intervention, three days before the election, came moments after his chosen successor, Manuel Roxas, hastily called a news conference to urge rival Grace Poe to team up with him and thwart Duterte and uphold "democracy and decency".
The push from the administration to form a pact came a day after the final major opinion poll ahead of Monday's vote showed crime-fighting mayor Duterte widening his lead, with 33 percent of survey respondents backing him. Poe trailed with 22 percent and Roxas had 20 percent.
"I am trying to get all of these different voices together and in that sense, perhaps help our candidate get together and have that united front," Aquino told CNN Philippines.
Duterte's promises of wiping out drugs and crime within six months and his advocacy of extrajudicial killings as a deterrent and have struck a chord among Filipinos tired of crime and drawn to his brash, tough-guy image.
Duterte was a last-minute entry into the campaign and analysts say a victory on Monday would represent disenchantment with Aquino's administration, under which the Philippines has seen annual growth of more than six percent on average, its best five-year record in four decades.
Aquino, who has served his maximum one term, said he had been talking to Roxas and had exchanged text messages with Poe, with a view to them joining forces. He said it would be good if all candidates, including Miriam Santiago and Vice-President Jejomar Binay, worked together to beat Duterte.
"Instead of thinking about what shall we do if everything he says is exactly what he intends to do, why don't we remove that problem, or that threat, or that insecurity," Aquino said.
Peter Lavina, a spokesman for Duterte, likened the effort against his boss to "thieves dividing the loot".
Neither Aquino nor Roxas explained how an anti-Duterte alliance would work, or if any of them would have to pull out.
'SPECTRE OF DICTATORSHIP'
Poe, a senator and adopted daughter of Philippine movie stars, made it clear she would not back out.
"I am not withdrawing from the fight," Poe said in a radio interview.
"We have been through a lot and what we carry here are the dreams and hopes of our countrymen that should not be compromised."
Roxas, the former interior minister, said it was time for candidates to unite after what had been a "divisive and vicious" campaign.
"Citizens of goodwill from all walks of life are worried," he said in a statement.
"Uncertainty and the spectre of a dictatorship are looming over our country once again."
But political science professor Benito Lim said the plan was doomed to fail.
"That simply will not work," he said.
"That's not the way people vote now, they are not really looking for a popular candidate but someone who can do the job."
(Additional reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)