Philippine Boxing Great Pacquiao Declares Presidential Run

Dennis Jay Santos and Jeoffrey Maitem
Davao, Philippines
Philippine Boxing Great Pacquiao Declares Presidential Run Philippine boxer-turned-politician Manny Pacquiao gestures after accepting the nomination for the presidential bid during an assembly of his faction of the PDP-Laban party, in Manila, Sep. 19, 2021.
[Handout Office of Philippine Sen. Koko Pimentel]

An announcement by Manny Pacquiao that he’s running for president has complicated Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s succession plans, but the senator and fading boxing champion faces legal hurdles to make his bid official next month, opponents say.

During a video-streamed national convention on Sunday, a faction of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Laban (PDP-Laban) party nominated Pacquiao for the presidency. His bid for the country’s highest office was expected.

But, a rival camp loyal to Duterte had named Sen. Christopher Go as its presidential candidate earlier this month, with Duterte declaring a run for the vice-presidency in the 2022 elections.

Pacquiaos nomination was illegal because the party had already endorsed a different candidate, according to Melvin Matibag, secretary-general of the faction that supports Duterte.

“Any other meeting that was called was not sanctioned, nor called by the partys chairman, President Duterte,” Matibag said in a statement. 

While the hopefuls have announced their presidential bids, the official filing for the candidacies will take place only during the first week of October. It is not clear which PDP-Laban factions the Commission on Elections will recognize as legitimate. 

“We are not surprised. We expected them (the other faction) to do that,” Matibag said, noting that Pacquiao would lose “the battle for legitimacy” as the partys candidate when the electoral commission decides on the matter before the candidates file for official nominations. 

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, the party’s national chairman who is allied with Pacquiao, said their side was not prepared to lose and would fight Duterte’s faction “all the way to the Supreme Court,” if needed.

“What is happening is sad. But that is part of the political life in the Philippines,” he said Monday on DZMM, a local radio station. “We are confident that the objective Commission on Elections will find our arguments well.” 

Pacquaio’s announcement also shows a clear split within the ruling party.

Matibag said reconciliation “may be too late at this stage because Pacquiao is acting like an opposition candidate.”

Pacquiao to run on an anti-corruption promise

On Sunday, Pacquiao said that he would campaign for the presidency on a pledge to rid the Philippines of poverty and corruption. 

“I am a fighter, and I will always be a fighter inside and outside the ring,” he said in a speech accepting the nomination. “It is now time for the country to rise up from poverty, for the oppressed to win.”

“To government officials who continue to rob government coffers, you will soon find others in jail. Your time is up,” he said.

An eight-time world boxing champ in different weight divisions, Pacquiao said he was considering retiring from the ring after he lost his most recent bout against a Cuban opponent. 

He won a seat in the Senate in 2016, the same year that Duterte became president and launched a bloody crackdown on illegal drugs, which Pacquiao staunchly supported in the beginning. 

In recent months, the two have had a major falling out over corruption allegations relating to the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pacquaio has been active in a Senate investigation over the government’s acquisition of face masks and other protective gear.

Pacquaio, who has styled himself as a devout Christian, is a popular figure in his home country but faces an uphill battle against Duterte and his daughter, who has also shown interest in running for the presidency.

A political analyst said Pacquiao might be massively popular, but Filipinos also know about his lackluster Senate performance.

“In various unofficial surveys, he is not performing well. His political party is in trouble, and they are divided,” said Ramon Beleno III, head of the political science and history department at Ateneo De Davao University in southern Davao City, Duterte’s hometown.

Beleno noted that official Senate records had flagged Pacquiaos absenteeism on the floor, with not a single significant piece of legislation attached to his name.

“If somebody from the family of Duterte runs against him, then 85 to 90 percent of the people of Davao City will vote against him,” he told BenarNews.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (center) sits next to erstwhile ally Sen. Manny Pacquiao (to Duterte’s left) and other officials from the PDP-Laban party during a campaign rally in the southern city of Koronadal, March 26, 2019. [Handout Presidential Communications Operations Office]

Dutertes six-year term ends in 2022, and the constitution bars a president from seeking re-election. Analysts say that his decision to run for election as vice president is a backdoor plan to take control of the government. 

Presidents and vice presidents are elected separately to a single six-year term. 

Sen. Go, Duterte’s former personal aide, has played coy about actually running for the presidency and has neither accepted nor rejected the nomination. He has said in the past that his loyalty lies with Duterte. 

In recent surveys, Sara Duterte, who is not a member of the PDP, is the publics top pick for president.

Matibag said his faction of PDP Laban remained hopeful that Go would eventually accept his nomination.

“As we said before, we will wait for his (Gos) decision. We have enough time. Remember what he said before... he might run for president if President Duterte were his vice-presidential running mate,” he told DZMM radio. 


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