BOXING champion and Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao on Monday declined an invitation to a presidential forum from a media network owned by President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s spiritual adviser.
“As much as I would like to participate in every debate and public forum related to my bid for the presidency, I am compelled to decline the invitation of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), which is owned by Apollo Quiboloy, who, according to the US government, has molested and abused children,” he told reporters in a Viber message.
“I cannot, in good conscience, be part of any activity organized by a man wanted for detestable crimes and who unconscionably used the name of the Lord in vain for religious scams,” he added.
A federal warrant has been issued for his arrest after a California district court on Nov. 10 convicted him of the crimes.
Mr. Pacquiao also said that he has a pending cyber-libel case against the religious leader, so “it is better to decline the invitation of SMNI.”
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, Sr., another presidential candidate at this year’s elections also chose not to attend the debate, noting that Mr. Quiboloy had endorsed Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. for president and his running mate Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio.
“Senate President Tito Sotto and I are skipping the SMNI debates,” he tweeted. “The network’s chairman, Pastor Quiboloy, has already openly endorsed his preferred presidential and vice-presidential candidates.”
Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo also declined the SMNI invitation, citing a prior commitment.
“Leni Robredo has a proven track record of attending debates and interviews regardless of the personal histories or affiliations of its sponsors,” her spokesman Ibarra M. Gutierrez III said in a statement. But she has to meet with leaders and supporters on Panay Island on the day of the debate.
“She will be unable to attend this privately sponsored event, but will definitely be present for all the upcoming Commission on Elections-sponsored and accredited debates,” he added.
Mr. Marcos and labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman have agreed to join the debate.
Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos has declined an invitation to a presidential debate organized CNN Philippines, citing a conflict of schedule.
In a statement, the network said the son of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos is the lone presidential hopeful who won’t be able to make it to the debate on Feb. 27. A separate debate for vice-presidential candidates will be held a day earlier.
Ms. Carpio had also ditched the debate, CNN Philippines said. She did not say why.
Also on Monday, Mr. Pacquiao and Mr. Lacson said they were not worried about Mr. Marcos’s lead in Pulse Asia Research’s January presidential opinion poll.
“We are not worried about the polls that come out,” Mr. Pacquiao said. “I am fighting for the future of our people, especially the poor. Our support is growing every day. We have solid ground support.”
Mr. Lacson asked his supporters not to lose hope. “To our brave supporters: If you don’t see in the surveys the support that you feel on the ground, don’t get disheartened.”
“Our fight to enlighten a benighted land shall continue in ways that are determined, decent, serious and honest. We will never give up for our country’s sake,” he added.
Mr. Marcos remained the top runner, with six of 10 Filipinos likely to vote for him, Pulse Asia said at the weekend. Ms. Robredo was a distant second with 16%.
Mr. Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso got 8% each, while Mr. Lacson got 4%.
Among those with a first choice for president, 24% said they would vote for Mr. Domagoso in case their candidate withdraws from the race, Pulse Asia said.
Davao City Mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio topped the poll for vice-president with 50%, followed by Senator Vicente C. Sotto III (29%), Senator Francis “Kiko” N. Pangilinan (11%) and Willie Ong (5%). — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza