MANILA - Sen. Manny Pacquiao's P100-million libel complaint against Pastor Apollo Quiboloy is part of the lawmaker's 2022 election propaganda, the lawyers of the Davao-based religious leader said Tuesday.
"He (Quiboloy) never made an accusation against the good senator, and only floated a question regarding that matter on behalf of the people who wanted answers," said Dinah Marie Tolentino, Quiboloy's spokesperson for the case.
"The complaint of Sen. Manny Pacquiao may be considered as retaliatory and a political move on his part, considering that the elections is upcoming," she said in a press conference.
Pacquiao filed a 13-page complaint before the Makati City Prosecutor's Office against Quiboloy who accused the senator of building a P3.5-B sports facility in Saranggani that has supposedly become a "white elephant."
Quiboloy's legal counsels asserted that it was the Pastor's right as a Filipino "to inquire, to hear, to speak and make commentaries about public officials."
"Public officials like Sen. Manny Pacquiao should respect criticism and critical evaluation from citizens," she said.
"We shall do all within our power to ensure that this complaint will not curtail what is a constitutionally-protected speech and expression," she added.
Quiboloy's lawyers said they would wait for a copy of Pacquiao's complaint.
"As soon as we receive a copy of the complaint, we shall file a counter affidavit and we will wait for the fair and impartial resolution of the City Prosecutor's Office of Makati," Tolentino said.
"We will not allow the good name of Pastor Quiboloy to be tarnished. We feel that Pastor Quiboloy has not done anything wrong. He merely asked questions," she said.
Quiboloy earlier alleged that Pacquiao had been involved in anomalies after the senator, who is rumored to be running for President in 2022, drew the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte for saying there is corruption in government.
He claimed that Pacquiao misused P3.5 billion for the unfinished Sarangani Sports Training Center.
The senator's camp said the P3.5 billion "was actually appropriated for the Philippines Sports Training Center in Bataan."
Pacquiao, in a statement, said Quiboloy used "this deliberate falsehood to brainwash the minds of the Filipino public, recklessly propagating lies to blacken the image and reputation of an honest public servant."
"He even had the audacity to quote the Holy Scripture in furtherance of his lies, misleading his flock, and confusing the public, with the end in view of blackening another’s reputation," the senator said.
Quiboloy is a close friend of Duterte, and has been one of the President's advisers when he was still mayor of Davao City.
In June, Duterte said gifts from Quiboloy led to allegations of graft against him.
"Yung bahay na binigay mo na sabi mo, 'Pag retire mo, may matirhan ka.' 'Yan 'yung sabi mo nung gabing 'yun na dinala mo ko du'n," he told Quiboloy.
(You said the house will be given to me when I retire. That's what you said that night when you brought me there.)
The President said he will live there after his term ends in 2022.