Davao City, Philippines - The two front-runners in the presidential race Tuesday failed to show up at what had been billed as a major debate, and the wrath of the “Son of God” came down upon them.
Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party (LP) had excused himself, citing sinus problems, while Nacionalista Party (NP) candidate Sen. Manuel Villar was tied up in a series of meetings, aides said.
Six other candidates—former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, Senators Richard Gordon and Jamby Madrigal, former President Joseph Estrada, evangelist Eddie Villanueva and environmentalist Nicanor Perlas—attended the presidential forum organized by the group called “Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name.”
The sect is headed by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a self-proclaimed “Appointed Son of God” who claims millions of followers.
No word, no honor
For Quiboloy, who still has to decide on whom his group will support on May 10, it’s all about palabra de honor (word of honor).
After reading an e-mail from Aquino explaining why he could not come, Quiboloy—obviously referring to the LP standard-bearer—told the thousands who came to hear the debate:
“You might be disappointed just like me. There is something that they say about commitment. An unknown man defined it as word of honor. When you fail to fulfill your commitment, you have no word and you have no honor.”
In his e-mail which Quiboloy read before the other candidates were asked to present their platforms of government, Aquino said he was advised by his doctors not to fly.
“As previously arranged, I have marked this event and was eagerly looking forward to meeting you … and to share my platform. But I was advised by my physician not to travel by aircraft for two consecutive occasions due to barosinusitis,” Aquino said.
Barosinusitis is an inflammation of one or more of the sinuses and can be aggravated by air travel.
Quiboloy cries unfair
Apparently, Quiboloy was not happy. He said that the forum had been moved to Tuesday because he wanted Aquino to attend.
“It was originally set on Feb. 11 but Senator Aquino said that he won’t be able to make it at that time. I asked him to choose the date. Aquino chose March 9 and he committed to come on this day. But on Tuesday, he called and informed me that he won’t be able to come,” Quiboloy lamented.
“All those whom we have invited came and fulfilled their commitments and they are here today. May God bless us all,” the Christian preacher said.
Although Villar was not castigated during the forum and prayer-meeting, Quiboloy told reporters later it was “unfair” that the Nacionalista Party (NP) candidate did not show up.
“I am disappointed [at] both of them because they’ve committed [to come] only to tell us at the last minute that they cannot make it,” Quiboloy said.
No endorsement yet
“Villar kept us waiting. His chief of staff kept on informing us that ‘parating na (he’s on his way’ ... but hindi pala (it turns out not). Why were we not informed? There is no explanation ... When you say something, do it,” Quiboloy added.
“It’s unfair to the Filipinos,” he said.
Quiboloy said his choice of presidential candidate would be announced next month, adding he was still “waiting for the Father’s revelation.”
Quiboloy claimed he has at least six million followers “in and out” of the country. Of the six million, at least three million are of voting age, he said.
‘A man of honor’
Villar arrived at about 11 a.m. but was unable to attend the forum because he was “held up in a series of meetings,” his party headquarters said.
It said Villar was seeking ways to meet Quiboloy “as soon as possible” and that the senator “is ready to face the assembly to explain his programs ... if he will be given a chance to do so.”
In Manila, Aquino’s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said that Quiboloy’s remarks about people having no word of honor was “unfortunate.”
“Senator Aquino is a man of honor and has delivered on his commitments. Unfortunately in this instance, it is beyond his control,” Lacierda said. “We hope Pastor Quiboloy will not use this one instance to hit the character of Senator Aquino.”
Lacierda noted that Villar himself was not able to attend the forum. He also said that Aquino was still willing to meet with Quiboloy if circumstances permitted.
The forum started later than its 3 p.m. schedule.
The candidates tackled issues that had been raised in previous debates, such the energy crisis, the El Niño phenomenon, the pork barrel system, corruption, healthcare, poverty, the conflict in Mindanao, private armies and education.
Estrada, who arrived at about 4:30 p.m., caused gales of laughter when he told the crowd he was late “because I just borrowed a plane. I could not afford to buy my own private plane.”
Asked how he could win back the people’s trust, Estrada, who was convicted of plunder but pardoned later, said: “To gain the respect of our people, you must be transparent in all your transactions in government.”
Gordon advocated a 24-hour working presidency. “You can text the President anytime,” he said.
Teodoro promised “to lead with humility,” saying: “To reach out and to heal, that is the first step toward sustainable progress.”
The forum was held at the 3,000-seat cathedral inside the sect’s central headquarters.
Some Roman Catholic Church officials said the attention that aspiring presidents was showering on Quiboloy was more because of the votes he commands rather than because of religion.
“The Quiboloy sect apparently has a very strong kingdom vote, meaning to say they were like the previous Iglesia ni Cristo, that what the founder says, the followers will do,” said Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz.
Cruz added: “How can you violate what the son of God will say? So I presume that the flocking there of candidates is because of the solid bloc vote of, they call themselves, the ‘Kingdom citizens.’”