National MPs to meet with anti-gay boxing legend Manny Pacquiao

National's hoping to strengthen its relationship with the Philippines, sending MPs over to meet politicians and controversial former boxer Manny Pacquiao.

A contingent of the party's MPs are heading to the Asian nation on Sunday, including leader Simon Bridges, defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell, foreign spokesperson Gerry Brownlee and Filipino-born list MP Paulo Garcia.

They are planning to meet with Kiwis living and running businesses in the Philippines, Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso, political leaders including Vice President Leni Robredo, and boxing legend Pacquiao. 

Mitchell says rising Abu Sayyaf jihadist militant group is a concern. Abu Sayyaf is affiliated with brutal terror group Islamic State. 

"That's in our own backyard, so we want to make sure we still have very good, strong relationships and communication ties - along with of course the fact we've got very strong economic and cultural relationships with the Philippines," he told Newshub.

There's estimated to be more than 60,000 Filipinos living in New Zealand, up from only 11,000 in 2001.

"We've got a very big Filipino community in New Zealand," said Mitchell. "The National Party is proud to have our first Filipino MP in Paulo Garcia, and they play an important role in the country as well."

The group will spend three days in Manila.

"Our trip is to strengthen those relationships, have important strategic meetings and make sure we're very well-placed this year with the general election coming up, with our return to Government."

Garcia entered Parliament when Nuk Korako retired last year. In his maiden speech to Parliament, Garcia emphasised his Filipino and Catholic background.

"Whatever laws we might pass in this Chamber, the pro-life voice must no longer be despised and discounted as offensive," he said. "Preachers of tolerance and inclusion must no longer seek to silence and condemn those with opinions that make them uncomfortable but are nevertheless opinions based on another person's own beliefs and values systems."

Pacquiao, now a Senator, made headlines in 2016 when he said LGBTQ people were "worse than animals". He later apologised, saying he was condemning the sin, not the people. Sportswear brand Nike dropped him as a partner in response.

Pacquio was later elected a Senator.

A visit to China last year by National MPs, including Bridges, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, with questions around its unorthodox organisation and Chinese-born MP Jian Yang's alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party, which he has denied.