(Note: This is the last of a five-part series on candidates running for president in the Philippines in the May 9, 2022 election. Canadian Filipino Net started the series in November 2021 with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Maria Leonor Robredo in December, Panfilo Lacson in January and Isko Moreno in February.)
Manny Pacquiao was a political neophyte when he ran for politics the first time in 2010 as representative for the province of Sarangani in Mindanao. Pacquiao, at that time, was coming out of a win against boxer Miguel Cotto, in what was his seventh title in his seventh weight class.
Pacquiao won the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight championship against Cotto “the Firepower” on November 14, 2009. Less than a week later on November 21, Pacquiao declared he was running for Congress.
The Philippines’ Pambansang Kamao (National Fist) won the congressional seat by a landslide, easing out the Chiongbian political dynasty that had been in power in his hometown for over three decades. It was reported that over 120,000 votes went to Pacquiao’s corner while a measly 30,000 went to the opponent. This was another win for Pacquiao whose legendary rise from rags to riches is known the world over.
If politics were a weight class, the Sarangani congressional seat would be his first title in that first political weight class division.
In 2013, Pacquiao got re-elected in Congress totally unopposed in what would be a run-away second title in that political weight class division. Pacquiao was reported to have attended only one Congress session on this second term in the House of Representatives and was criticized for being the top absentee among lawmakers.
Looking to the 2016 national elections, the Pambasang Kamao decided it was time to run for a national legislative position – as a senator. Just prior to the 2016 elections, he (in)famously said in an election site video that gay people are “worse than animals,” adding that, “Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female.” He later apologized on his Facebook account.
No matter what Pacquiao said, he ended up garnering the nation’s 16 million votes, landing seventh among 12 new members of the Senate. If politics were a weight class division, Senator Pacquiao won his third title in his second weight class.
Unfortunately, in 2019, the Philippine Senate released data showing Pacquiao as having the worst attendance record among all senators in the 17th Congress – a repeat of his last congressional term. It seemed that Pacquiao’s legendary dedication to the sport of boxing and laser focus while in the boxing ring sadly did not translate to his political career. The hunger he had for boxing was absent in his public service career.
Though he ran for senator under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) party of former vice president Jejomar Binay, Pacquiao quickly aligned himself with current President Rodrigo Duterte. He backed Duterte in matters such as the ouster of Senator Leila de Lima from the Senate justice committee, strongly concurring with De Lima’s critics that eventually led to her arrest and detention on alleged (and still unproven) illicit drug links. Pacquiao also defended Duterte’s son and Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte who was alleged to have been an active participant in a multi-billion-peso shipment of illegal drugs in 2017.
The Pambansang Kamao, who is also a born-again Christian pastor, has been very vocal about social issues such as capital punishment which he wants to be reinstituted and abortion which he strongly opposes.
In a one-on-one interview this January on the subject of rape and abortion, Pacquiao laid blame on the victim, “Yung bata nabuo ‘yan dahil may part ka (The child was formed because you have a part there).”
So closely aligned was Pacquiao with Duterte that in 2020, Pacquiao became acting president of the ruling party PDP-Laban. However, with eyes on the presidency and riding the wave with the public’s outcry, Pacquiao began to criticize the Duterte administration’s shortcoming both in the West Philippine Sea issue and addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The retort was likewise quick. PDP-Laban was split into two factions: one in support of Pacquiao, the other against.
In September 2021, Pacquiao announced his presidential bid during the National Assembly of the PDP-Laban, organized by his faction but later jumped ship and formally registered his presidential bid with the Cebu-based party PROMDI with an alliance with his former PDP Laban faction and the People’s Champ Movement.
Pacquiao’s flip-flopping pronouncements on social issues and confusing alliance with various political parties may have led him to the bottom of the presidential candidates’ list in the February survey of Pulse-Asia. But this political run is not Pacquiao’s first time to be the underdog. Remember who was the underdog but was victorious against big names like Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya? It was none other than the Pambansang Kamao. In May of this year, the public will know whether Pacquiao will win his fourth title in this third and national political weight class.