Manny Pacquiao Vows to Fight to the End in Philippine Presidential Race
Manny Pacquiao, the boxing star-turned-politician, may not have knocked out other contenders early in the 2022 Philippine presidential race, but he believes he has the staying power to gain support and win at the polls on May 9.
Sen. Pacquiao, known affectionately here by “Pacman,” his nickname in the ring, feels strongly that ordinary Filipinos are in his corner because they identify with him. He had an impoverished childhood growing up in the southern city of General Santos before punching his way to global stardom.
In his bid for the presidency of his native Philippines, the former world boxing champion presents himself as the right choice for clean governance and for finding a solution to the South China Sea conundrum.
“You know, it is too early,” Pacquiao told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (Focap) on Monday.
“If I were to compare it with boxing, we are just in the fourth or fifth round, but the entire match is 12 rounds.”
A survey released by pollster Pulse Asia on Monday put the 43-year-old former boxer at third place with only eight percent of voters surveyed voicing a preference for him. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, who shares his father’s name, was in the lead, with 60 percent preferring him as president, followed by opposition candidate Vice President Leni Robredo at 16 percent.
Pacquiao, who is also a former Congressman, acknowledged that his rivals may be ahead in surveys at this stage, but said he was not worried. The people on the ground, those in the C and D crowd, are just on the sidelines, he said, referring to ordinary working-class citizens.
“I know they are just silently supporting me,” Pacquiao said.
Ties to Duterte
The affable sports icon, known for handing out crisp 100-peso bills to fans, said that while his political record may be modest compared to his exploits in international boxing, at least, he was spending his own money on his presidential campaign.
His comment was a dig at President Rodrigo Duterte, whom he had once allied with, and whose officials he has since accused of graft.
Pacquiao had tied his fate to Duterte early in his political career. Both men come from Mindanao Island in the south, and while Pacquiao was with another political party, Duterte had considered him an ally.
At first, the former boxer said he gave Duterte’s scorched-earth policy against illegal drugs a chance. But now, six years later, he believes that there may have been “extrajudicial killings” by security forces as they sought to impress a president in his war on drugs.
At last count, about 8,000 suspected addicts and dealers have been killed in what police have claimed to be shootouts. Human rights groups, by contrast, say the number could be anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000, including many killed by pro-government vigilantes.
Meanwhile, in 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) approved a request by its former chief prosecutor to investigate the drug-war killings under Duterte, who had withdrawn the Philippines from the treaty that created the ICC.
Pacquiao said that if he became president, he would allow the ICC into the Philippines.
“Yes, I am open to allowing them to investigate here, as long as the rights of the Filipino are not stepped on,” the former boxer said.
When asked whether he now believed that extrajudicial killings had taken place, Pacquiao answered in the affirmative. He vowed to get justice for the relatives of those who have been illegally killed.
Still, he said he would likely continue with the war on drugs, but “in the right way” to ensure that suspects are not summarily slain.
South China Sea
What Pacquiao said he would not continue is Duterte’s practice of appeasing Beijing on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea.
Instead of standing firm on a 2016 international tribunal’s ruling on the waterway in Manila’s favor, critics say Duterte has looked to foster bilateral ties with Beijing despite China’s aggressive moves against the ruling in Philippine waters.
Critics say that China has, in return, poured millions of dollars infrastructure projects and other investments in the Philippines, while all along warning Duterte against raising the issue of the international tribunal’s ruling.
Pacquiao has said he has a plan to deal with this unequal situation. He has said he would work to set up a special “peace panel” with China to discuss the territorial dispute, with the view of avoiding war as much as possible.
“We are trying to avoid war. We want to have peace. We want to talk about the problem, that is why I am planning to create a peace panel to focus on this issue,” he said on Monday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Association.
“We are friends to all nations, that is our advocacy.”
Still, Pacquiao also pointed out that the Philippines has a staunch military ally in the United States, which would not hesitate to come to Manila’s aid in times of external aggression.
He was referring to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines, which calls on them to aid each other in times of war, or external aggression by a third party.
The Philippines, Pacquiao said, would invoke this treaty if dealing with China bilaterally failed. He may want to avoid war, but would not hesitate to fight for the country’s territory because “we would not be bullied when it comes to the territorial dispute,” the former boxing champion said.
“As much as possible, we will not ask help from other allies. Only when it becomes necessary and the lives of Filipinos are at stake will we ask help from help from allied countries,” Pacquiao said.
A misunderstanding that results in a war is “not the best idea,” he said.
“Our first concern here is the welfare of the Filipino nation,” Pacquiao emphasized.
“Whatever our agreement with China, [it] should not be abused and the rights of every Filipino [should] not [be] stepped on.”