JARED SIVILA WRITES — For many Filipino households, Manny Pacquiao’s fights in the boxing ring were an excuse for celebrations and parties as big as Christmas or Thanksgiving. During his prime, Manny Pacquiao consistently drew an overwhelming audience to watch his finesse and expertise within the ring. The legendary fighter boasts 12 world boxing titles over eight weight divisions, with a staggering record of 62 wins and 7 losses.
Now, Pacquiao faces another fight of another kind- he announced that he aims to be the new president of the Philippines in May 2022. While Pacquiao’s performance in the ring launched him into the spotlight and solidified his status as a most popular, beloved pride of the Philippines, will he be equally loved in the fierce atmosphere of the political ring?
One wonders: Why trade one kind of competitive fight for another? Perhaps because inevitably, Pacquiao’s age caught up to him, and after his most recent loss in Vegas, the esteemed fighter publicly announced his retirement via Facebook.
Obviously, this man does not shy away from any spotlight. Nor is Pacquiao diving blindly into the unforgiving world of politics. For a brief period in 2016, Pacquiao temporarily set aside his boxing career to serve as one of twelve elected Philippine senators. His stint in office, however, was controversial and spotty. During his 2016 campaign, Pacquiao called LGBTQ+ individuals “worse than animals,” and touted the worst attendance record of his term when compared to other senators. His behavior was reprehensible and not that of a champion.
Today, the boxer-turned-candidate is affiliated with the Philippine Democratic Party (or PDP-Laban for short) – the same party as his former ally, Rodrigo Duterte, the current president of the Philippines. These two have a rich history of supporting one another, seen by Pacquiao’s willingness to defend Duterte’s ongoing violent drug war by his obstruction of former Senator Leila de Lima’s investigation into Duterte’s twisted crusade of extrajudicial killings of drug users, which reached an estimated death toll of 23,000 casualties by 2018. In return, Duterte went as far as calling the boxer a “president-to-be.”
But despite these previous defenses of Duterte, he is now stirring the pot himself. In July, the boxer denounced his own country’s social welfare ministry for its mishandling of $207 million in pandemic aid by calling for an investigation. More recently, Pacquiao pushed even further, directly criticizing Duterte and his constituents for their cozy relationship with China despite its continual encroachment on Philippine land in the South China Sea.
As a result of all this, PDP-Laban now faces internal conflict, with some members torn between supporting Duterte or Pacquiao. Regardless, Pacquiao vows to get rid of any corrupt official in hopes of saving the country he loves.
What will be the outcome? Despite the sweet talk of Pacquiao, according to PulseAsia, he sits in a tight race for third in the most recent pre-election survey of September 2021, indicating that he has a lot of work to do if he truly wants a shot at the title. Pacquiao promises change, but no real road or plan has been laid out. And while his legendary career has amassed millions of fans willing to support whatever new career he ventures into, the pressing issues of the Philippines deserve more qualifications than those of an accomplished athlete.
With the election coming in May, the boxer and would-be politician appears to be facing his toughest fight yet. The boxing blows he both suffered and delivered may come to seem like short shrift compared to the fiercely packed punches of politics.