Presidential aspirants Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Isko Moreno, Manny Pacquiao and Vice President Leni Robredo will not be present in the presidential debates to be hosted by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy’s media network Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI).

Lacson said in a tweet that he and his running mate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, will not attend the debates since Quiboloy has already endorsed his candidates for the 2022 elections. 

Quiboloy has already endorsed the electoral bids of former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Pacquiao, on the other hand, also refused to participate in the debates citing Quiboloy’s indictment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“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 SMNI, which is owned by Apollo Quibuloy (sic), who, according to the US government, has molested and abused children,” Pacquiao said in a statement.

“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.”

Pacquiao added that he has a pending cyber-libel complaint against Quiboloy. 

“Maliban dito ay may nakabinbin po kaming cyber-libel case kay Quiboloy kaya mas mabuting tanggihan ang imbitasyon ng SMNI para hindi mabigyan ito ng anumang kahulugan na maaaring makaapekto sa aming kaso,” Pacquiao said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo’s spokesperson lawyer Barry Gutierrez said Robredo “has a long standing commitment to meet with leaders and supporters in Panay Island on the date this event was scheduled.”

“Leni Robredo has a proven track record of attending debates and interviews regardless of the personal histories or affiliations of its sponsors … She will be unable to attend this privately sponsored event, but will definitely be present for all the upcoming Comelec-sponsored and accredited debates,” Gutierrez said in a statement. 

Scheduling conflicts also forced Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko” Moreno to skip the debate. 

“Yes, he is not going to the SMNI debate. We are on a swing of the Samar provinces today and [tomorrow], returning on Wed the 16th,” Moreno’s campaign manager, Lito Banayo, said.

“Isko is also on a nostalgic visit to his late mother’s hometown of Allen in Northern Samar tomorrow,” he added.

The SMNI presidential debate is set to air on Tuesday, February 15, while the vice presidential debate is on February 22. Ronald Espartinez