Philippine boxing legend Manny Pacquiao on Thursday expressed shock at President Benigno Aquino’s claim that Islamic militants planned to kidnap him, and said the alleged plot should not have been made public.
Aquino released a statement on Wednesday saying Abu Sayyaf, a notorious kidnap-for-ransom gang that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and beheaded a Canadian hostage this week, had planned to abduct Pacquiao or his children.
“I was alarmed when he announced... the Abu Sayyaf wanted to kidnap me. I’m surprised because all Filipinos are my friends. I love them, especially the Muslims,” Pacquiao said at his residence in Manila.
Pacquiao said he had responded to Aquino’s statement by taking security measures to protect himself as well as his wife and five children, who are in his hometown of General Santos.
“We added security for my family and me,” he said.
General Santos is in the conflict-wracked southern Philippine region of Mindanao, where an array of Islamic militant groups are based and a separatist insurgency has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1970s.
The Abu Sayyaf’s main stronghold is about 400 kilometres (250 miles) away from General Santos.
Pacquiao was in Manila, more than 1,000 kilometres north of General Santos, as part of his campaign to win a Senate seat in next month’s national elections.
Pacquiao said he was bewildered by Aquino’s statement, having not been informed before the president went public with the alleged plot.
“If it came from an intelligence report, it should have been kept secret and need not be announced. And why just now? We have to study this,” said Pacquiao, whose unprecedented eight world titles have made him one of the Philippines’ richest men.
Aquino made the announcement after the severed head of Canadian John Ridsdel was dumped in the streets of Jolo island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.
The group, which is believed to have only a few hundred armed followers, is believed to be holding more than 20 other foreigners captive, including 18 Indonesian and Malaysian sailors abducted over the past month.
Aquino also said the militants had threatened to kill him and planned to kidnap his sister, who is a popular television personality, in an effort to gain Islamic State favour and funding.
Pacquiao said he had good relations with Muslims in the southern Philippines, and did not know why he might be a target.
“I don’t believe our Muslim brothers (would) do that,” he said.
“We support them, we give them livelihood, so I don’t know where that came from.”
Pacquiao, an evangelical Christian, said he was not scared for his own safety and would continue hitting the campaign trail, where he attracts huge, chaotic crowds.
“I live my life like every day is the last so I have no fear. God is with me,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma declined to comment directly on Pacquiao’s complaints he had not been informed about the alleged kidnapping plot before Aquino’s public announcement.
“(The) government has taken, and continues to take, all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our citizens and thwart acts of terror, intimidation and destabilisation against them,” Coloma told AFP in a text message.