Philippine election: Manny Pacquiao says he will imprison former allies if he wins presidency

Speaking to CNN in an interview on Nov. 11, the presidential candidate said he plans to investigate some members of the resigned administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“All those corrupt officials should be jailed,” he said. “That’s the only way we can have economic growth in our country, because that’s this country’s cancer, the impediment to development.”

Pacquiao hopes to succeed Duterte when the Philippines goes to the polls on May 9, 2022, with official campaigning not scheduled to begin until February.

But the race is already warming up.

One of the forerunners is Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. – the 64-year-old controversial son and namesake of the late dictator accused of stealing billions from the country during a two-and-a-half-decade reign during which thousands of people were imprisoned and tortured.
Some experts estimate the Marcos family amassed more than $ 10 billion during the dictatorship. Marcos Jr. claimed that many of the charges against his family are defamatory.

Pacquiao’s agenda includes trying to regain some of the “stolen wealth” of the Marcos family, who were exiled for more than five years after the 1986 revolution.

“I’m not afraid,” said Pacquiao. “This is my fight to give development to our country, to imprison those who are constantly robbing the Philippines of its wealth. I want them imprisoned.”

Wide open field

Weeks of speculation ended on Tuesday when Marcos Jr. and Duterte’s eldest daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, confirmed they will be voting partners in the election.

Duterte-Carpio, 43, will stand for vice president – elected separately by the President – on the same ticket as Marcos Jr., cementing an alliance between the two powerful families.

Among the other top candidates for the main job are Duterte’s longtime aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go; current vice president and Duterte critic Leni Robredo; and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, a former actor.

According to Richard Heydarian, an associate professor of politics at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, dynasties and celebrities have dominated the country’s politics since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.

“Over time, the celebrities have presented themselves as a kind of self-made alternatives to political dynasties,” he said. “However, just because you’re a celebrity doesn’t mean you win.”

But Pacquiao has a fighting opportunity.

Heydarian said the wide field of candidates, combined with the voting system of the Philippines ’first-pass post could work to the advantage of the former boxer.

“Let’s not forget, in the Philippines, we don’t have head-to-head elections,” he said. “All you have to do to become the President is win more votes than everyone else.”

In 2016, Duterte did just that – winning the presidency with just over 39% of the vote.

Son of a dictator.  Former actor.  Champion boxer.  Within the mania race to replace Duterte as the Philippines' leader

Despite criticism that he has prioritized his boxing career over his congressional role, Pacquiao’s political star has risen over the past five years under Duterte’s rule.

But relations between the two men have faltered in recent months.

Signs of a split in the ruling PDP-Laban party began in March when the former boxer criticized Duterte’s stance on a maritime dispute with China and accused government agencies of corruption.

Speaking to CNN, Pacquiao also questioned the use of Covid-19’s Duterte administration.

“Filipinos are appalled at how those responsible for the Covid response have dealt with the pandemic,” Pacquiao said. “We are ridiculous in relation to Covid’s response as well as corruption in the government.”

In July, Pacquiao said $ 200 million in pandemic aid meant for the country’s poorest people was uncounted. Duterte responded by challenging Pacquiao to call corrupt government officials to prove that the former boxer was not just politicking before the election.

The contest for president has been repeatedly overshadowed by the controversial official, who is currently facing an investigation by the International Criminal Court into his “war on drugs,” in which police say more than 6,600 people have been killed. The government has said it will not cooperate with an international investigation because the Philippines has a functioning justice system.

Duterte, who is banned by the Constitution from seeking a second term, will run for senator in next year’s election. Meanwhile, his youngest son, Sebastian Duterte, is running to replace Duterte-Carpio as mayor of Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao.

According to Heydarian, the outgoing President “needs a stronghold, as the International Criminal Court will most likely push for a full-scale investigation. And we may even see arrest warrants against some of the top officials in the Philippines.”

Pacquiao said he would investigate the Duterte government for its role in the killings.

“I will continue the war on drugs in the right way,” Pacquiao said. “You don’t need to kill them in the streets, it’s a proper process, (giving them) the opportunity to defend themselves to prove they’re innocent.”

Supporters of Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao welcome him when he arrives to present his certificate of candidacy for president on October 1, 2021.

The popularity of Pacquiao

Unlike some of his rivals for the presidency, Pacquiao was born into poverty.

He sold chocolates and cigarettes on the streets as a child to take care of his siblings and single mother and began his boxing career fighting for a few pesos in unapproved attacks.

The only boxer to ever win world championship titles in eight different weight divisions, Pacquiao has retired from boxing this year after a brilliant 26-year career.

His success in the ring and famous generosity – in 2016 he estimated that he gave away $ 200 million to help the poor – made him a national icon.

Although his unconventional career path has pushed many away in the middle class, Pacquiao is very popular among poor Filipinos who are inspired by his rag-to-rich story, according to Heydarian, of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

“Pacquiao has 100% name recognition, Pacquiao has a lot of money, he has a () network across the country, and he’s a very charismatic guy,” Heydarian said. “He also comes from a very poor background (and) his life story is also extremely inspiring.”

Pacquiao said it is his unusual path – and his self-made success – that sets him apart from other candidates.

“I’m not a traditional politician,” Pacquiao said. “I’m a very forward and straightforward person, I don’t hesitate to say what’s right.

“I want to give Filipinos a good life, a good future, that’s my goal, that’s why I got into politics.”

Additional reporting by Reuters and CNN’s Ben Westcott.

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