By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte is not keen on seeking the support of religious groups for his preferred senatorial candidates in the May elections.
“No, it’s not his style,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview with reporters when asked if Duterte will tap the church support in the polls.
Panelo said Duterte did not seek the endorsement of religious groups when he ran for president in the 2016 elections and was not about to do it this time.
“He didn’t approach anyone. Marami nag o-offer sa kanya. Wala namang nag-open na in support of the President that time [Many offered him. But no one openly expressed support of the President that time],” he said.
“Wala siyang hiningan at wala din akong alam na went out to publicly say that they are supporting the President,” he added.
Panelo, however, explained that religious leader Apollo Quiboloy backed Duterte’s bid in 2016 because he was a “personal friend.”
On the President’s recent meeting with Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) leader Eduardo Manalo, Panelo said such meeting was a simple case of “hi, hello, goodbye.”
The President earlier endorsed several senatorial candidates in the midterm polls, admitting he must pay a debt of gratitude to these administration allies. Duterte is expected to show support for his preferred candidates during the campaign period.
“I’m not bragging but rather I’m saying that if ever I campaign for anybody, it’s gonna be a very, very limited activity. Not only because — I don’t know about you but mabigat kasi sa amin ‘yan, ang utang na loob,” Duterte said during his recent visit to Albay.
Panelo said while the President will campaign for his “personal choices” in the polls, it was up to the electorate to make final decision on the new set of leaders.
“I don’t think the President believes in his magical so-called power to endorse,” he said.
“What he’s giving the people is ‘this are the people that I personally feel are capable of being in the Senate.’ That is why precisely marami siyang pinipili … He has a deep bench, ‘di mamili kayo,” he added.
In case an opposition candidate wins in the polls, Panelo said it does not mean a “repudiation” of the administration. He said it only indicated that voters want these winning bets to cooperate with, not destabilize, the administration.
“It only means that when opposition candidates win, it is an expression of the electorate telling them that we’re putting you there to cooperate with this administration because we believe in this presidency and not you to destabilize it,” he said.
“I think that’s a good message coming from the electorate,” he added.
Panelo meantime declined to give his prediction about the chances of the administration slate. He also refused to say if the administration bets were better compared to the opposition slate.
“Since this is the first day of official campaigning which directs us from refraining to campaign for or against, any comment with respect to your question may be deemed to be a campaign in favor of a certain candidate and therefore I cannot respond,” he said.