MANILA — Sen. Manny Pacquiao on Friday said he might not join the last leg of the debates organized by the Commission on Elections, unless his fellow presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would show up.
Marcos was the lone presidential contender who skipped the first 2 Comelec debates. The final debates scheduled this weekend were deferred to April 30 and May 1, following a controversy over the Comelec contractor's failure to pay Sofitel for hosting the events.
Pacquiao said he was "not yet sure" if he could attend the postponed debate due to his tight campaign schedule.
But the PROMDI standard bearer said, "Kung mag-attend talaga si Ferdinand Marcos Jr., mag-a-attend ako."
(If Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attends, I will, too)
"Magandang optic kasi 'yun na makita ng taumbayan na kompleto kaming mga kandidato na nandun sa nag-participate sa isang imbitasyon ng debate," Pacquiao said at the sidelines of his campaign sortie in Bohol province.
(It's good optics if the public sees that the candidates are complete and accepted the invitation to the debate.)
Meanwhile, Pacquiao extended advance birthday greetings for another rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, who he called "friend."
"Election lang ito election lang ito at ang dalangin ko marami pang kaarawang darating and Panginoon laging mag-iingat sa kanya, bigyan siya ng lakas ng pangangatawan... [May] wisdom, knowledge, and understanding be upon her," he wished for Robredo, who turns 57 on Saturday.
(This is just an election, and I pray that she will have many more birthdays, and may the Lord always keep her, grant her good health.)
But Pacquiao denied that he would appear in one of Robredo's campaign sorties in Metro Manila, contrary to social media speculation.
Last Easter Sunday, Pacquiao skipped a press conference where 3 other presidential candidates — Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, and former defense chief Norberto Gonzales — accused Robredo of trying to get them to withdraw from the race.
While Robredo's camp denied this, Domagoso maintained she should drop her presidential bid — a call from which Lacson kept his distance and for which Gonzalez apologized.
The Comelec debate would have been the first time they meet in person after the controversy.
PACQUIAO IN BOHOL
Pacquiao on Thursday and Friday visited Bohol province, where he guested in 2 local radio stations, paid courtesy calls to local chief executives, and talked with provincial government workers.
Bohol Governor Arthur Yap, Vice Governor Rene Relampagos, and Tagbilaran City Mayor John Geesnell Yap received Pacquiao.
The governor clarified they were campaigning for Marcos and his running-mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
But regardless of who will be elected as the next president, Yap appealed for the national government to treat local officials as "partners" by fully implementing a Supreme Court ruling regarding the Internal Revenue Allotment.
He added that thousands of residents needed help in provinces struck by typhoon Odette in December, including Bohol.
"Ang hirap mangampanya at this point in time because 288,000 people were affected, still waiting for assistance. May binibigay ang national government, meron din kami. Pero kulang sa totoo lang," said Yap.
(It is difficult to campaign because 288,000 people were affected, still waiting for assistance. The national government gives aid, we do, too. But honestly, this is not enough.)
"Any president who sits must treat us as a partner para mas mabilis (so it will be faster)," he said.
Pacquiao promised to help Bohol.
He also hit the government's alleged failure to curb the smuggling of basic goods.
"Ang ating bansa walang concrete direction... How many decades na lumipas walang concrete na direction ang ating bansa, unang-una dito sa basic commodities," Pacquiao said.
(Our country has no concrete direction. Many decades have passed, but our country still lacks concrete direction, first of all, with these basic commodities.)
"Nakikiusap naman ako sa nasa mga katungkulan, 'yung mga pumapasok dito na iligal eh hulihin naman natin. 'Wag natin pabayaan, para nating pinapatay yung mga mahihirap, yung mga nahihirapan nating mga kababayan, lalo nating inaalisan ng makakain," he continued.
(I ask authorities to arrest those behind smuggling. Our negligence is akin to killings the poor, who we are robbing of food.)