On Tuesday, the Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao hit the campaign trail with his presidential candidate running mate, Leni Robredo, to urge voters to turn out to the polls on May 9, 2019, to elect candidates that will combat the corruption and violence associated with President Rodrigo Duterte. Pacquiao has been a very vocal opponent of Duterte’s controversial campaign promises, which have included a nationwide “war on drugs,” the legitimization of the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug dealers, and his brash and profane criticism of critics.
Despite election rules that allow only party leaders to campaign at the grassroots level, the day has been resoundingly organized by Pacquiao’s political party and the national head office of the main opposition party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which went so far as to print T-shirts with #PacquiaoForPresident emblazoned on the front.
“In the 2018 midterm elections, Ms. Robredo [along with 70 percent of people] rejected Duterte and his criminal leadership,” Pacquiao told the crowd. “Rookie candidates were selected to replace them and unfortunately, they are drug lords and criminals who will be a destruction for the people.”
For Pacquiao, Robredo may have been a role model prior to Duterte’s rise to power, but not any more. If her candidacy is successful, Pacquiao will become president, assuming Robredo’s name survives through the numerous appeals that are expected after she loses the elections.
Duterte has sought to distance himself from Pacquiao in recent weeks, but he has shown he won’t be easily placated. After Pacquiao and Robredo took the stage, the president made an appearance alongside their campaign team.
“I am happy to see Pacquiao on the campaign trail,” Duterte said. “That was the greatest day of my life.”
The DDS-Laban presidential ticket has reached the Filipino people, and is ready to take on their corrupt government at the national level. Learn more at https://t.co/CPMlwBwwEJ #PacquiaoForPresident pic.twitter.com/Uku8hejLDP — PDP Laban Presidential (@PDPLabanOnline) October 10, 2018
“We worked very hard for this victory and by God’s grace, we have come this far,” Pacquiao said. “We want to bring change to the country.”
Despite their other differences, Pacquiao and Robredo have a common goal: defeating Duterte. With the caveat that the Filipino electorate often finds itself apathetic to elections, the negative press surrounding the incumbent president and more than 40,000 homicides attributed to his crackdown on crime have produced a sizable anti-Duterte electorate. Robredo is riding high in opinion polls and might actually be better positioned to unseat the president than Pacquiao was to oust Senate President Aquilino Pimentel II, who returned to the elections as a third candidate. If Robredo does win, she will be a strong contender for Philippines’ most powerful job.
“Duterte is mouthing off to all of us, but then he is saying ‘I want Manny Pacquiao to win because he has been part of my country,’” Robredo said. “How can you condemn someone who is defending your life? We are there to protect our people.”
More than anything, Pacquiao’s pledge to take on Duterte shows a genuine commitment to Philippine democracy. For all of his international popularity, Pacquiao has a long history in the Philippines and has been one of the country’s most prominent political figures for the past two decades. One reason why he continues to be popular back home is his ardent opposition to Duterte, particularly his war on drugs.
Whether Pacquiao’s opponent can match his political acumen, personal integrity, and passion remains to be seen. In this case, though, he may stand a good chance.