• The San Juan Daily Star

Boxer Pacquiao joins Philippine presidential race

Manny Pacquiao training at a gym in Los Angeles in 2019.

By Jason Gutiérrez

Former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has shuffled his way into the presidential race in the Philippines.

Pacquiao, the country’s best-known athlete, already holds a seat in the Senate but faces tough opposition as a presidential candidate. He was formerly the president of the PDP-Laban, the ruling party in the Philippines, before being ousted by a faction loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte, whose government Pacquiao has accused of corruption.

“To government officials who continue to rob government coffers, you will soon find others in jail,” Pacquiao warned Sunday when he announced his candidacy. “Your time is up.”

The constitution bars Duterte from seeking a second six-year term in the May election. He has instead said he would run for vice president, in what some analysts have described as an attempt to avoid prosecution from the International Criminal Court. The ICC last week announced an investigation into Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, which critics have said was fueled by extrajudicial killings.

Christopher Lawrence Go, a senator and Duterte’s longtime aide, was considered a party favorite for the presidential nomination, but he has yet to announce his candidacy. The president and the vice president are elected separately in the Philippines. If both men were to win, analysts said, Go could step aside for Duterte or let him rule the country by proxy, allowing him to escape prosecution.

Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter and the mayor of Davao City, said she would not seek the presidency if her father continued with his plans to run for vice president.

All candidates must submit their final filings in October.

Pacquiao, 42, signaled a break with Rodrigo Duterte earlier this year when he accused the government’s health department of corruption tied to the coronavirus pandemic and the purchasing of face masks and other protective equipment. The senator, who as a boxer won world titles in a record eight weight classes, was once an ally of Duterte but recently became more critical of the president.

“We are ready to rise to the challenge of leadership,” Pacquiao said Sunday when he accepted the nomination from his faction of the party. “It is now time for the oppressed to win. It is now time for the country to rise up from poverty.”

Aries Arugay, a political-science professor at the University of the Philippines, said that he was not surprised by Pacquiao’s announcement but that the boxer may be in over his head. While Pacquiao is internationally recognized, “he is not ready” to be president, Arugay said, adding that Pacquiao had not passed any major legislation.

“His performance at the Senate was underwhelming,” he said. “However, that has not prevented people and politicians in the past from winning public office.”

Pacquiao has also been a vocal supporter of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug campaign.

The Commission on Elections will have to settle the matter of the separate factions of the PDP-Laban before the final candidacies are filed in October. If Duterte’s faction emerges with a clear mandate, Pacquiao will likely step aside or run as an independent, chipping away at Duterte’s chances of regaining public office, Arugay said.

Melvin Matibag, the general secretary of PDP-Laban and the leader of the pro-Duterte wing of the party, said Pacquiao was acting against the party’s wishes by announcing his candidacy.

The meeting Sunday during which Pacquiao announced his candidacy was “not sanctioned nor called by the party’s chairman, President Duterte,” Matibag said Monday on national radio.

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