Eight-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has sparked a firestorm of criticism in the Philippines after describing gay couples as ‘worse than animals’.
Nearing the end of a glorious decades-long boxing career, the 37-year-old is reinventing himself as a conservative Bible-bearing politician ahead of the country’s May elections, when he is running for a senate seat.
‘It’s common sense. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female,’ Pacquiao told local broadcaster TV5 in an interview aired earlier this week.
‘If men mate with men and women mate with women they are worse than animals.’
The 37-year-old later took to Instagram to apologise for causing offence, but stuck to his beliefs.
He wrote: ‘I’m sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those I’ve hurt. I still stand on my belief that I’m against same-sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but I’m not condemning LGBT. I love you all with the love of the Lord. God Bless you all and I’m praying for you.’
Gay marriage is outlawed in the Philippines due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church and 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people subscribe to the faith.
Gay marriages are officiated at small churches but these unions are not recognised by the church or the state.
The country’s most popular gay comedian, Vice Ganda, posted #PrayForMannyPacquiao to his 6.7million followers on Twitter as he tore at the boxer.
‘Some people think they can judge people like God just because they’ve attended a prayer meeting and read the bible,’ he said.
‘The Senate needs experts on politics and law, not blind prophets,’ Vice Ganda added.
Singer Aiza Seguerra, who recently married her actress-girlfriend, called on voters to boycott Pacquiao, who is also preparing for his last boxing fight in April, calling him an ‘ignorant, bigoted hypocrite’.
‘You might have done our country proud but with your statement, you just showed the whole country why we shouldn’t vote for you,’ Seguerra said in a post on Instagram.
Pacquiao gave the television interview as part of his campaign for one of 12 seats in the nationally-elected senate.
The most recent surveys suggest he would win.
He currently represents his wife’s impoverished home province of Sarangani in the House of Representatives and is notorious for his chronic absences, favouring boxing training over legislation.
In one of the rare times he spoke at the legislature, Pacquiao quoted heavily from the Bible as he vigorously sought to stop a proposed law, since passed, granting free condoms to the poor.
He credits his renewed Christian faith for transforming him from a free-spending womaniser and gambler into a devoted family man who can recite Bible verses.
‘Outside the boxing ring, I don’t think Manny Pacquiao should be taken seriously. It struck me first as funny. I pity him,’ Kakay Pamaran, a pastor at one of Manila gay churches, said.
‘I would advise him to talk to more LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual and transgender) persons, meet them and not just reduce his concept of LGBT to the sexual act.’