MANILA: Renowned Boxing star Manny Pacquiao said on Sunday he will run for president of the Philippines next year, after railing against corruption in government and what he calls President Rodrigo Duterte’s cozy relationship with China.
Pacquiao accepted the nomination of his political allies during the national assembly of the faction he leads in the ruling PDP-Laban Party, days after a rival faction nominated Duterte’s long-time aide, Senator Christopher “Bong”, as its presidential candidate.
That faction nominated Duterte for vice president, a move that critics called a cynical ploy by Duterte to retain power.
Go declined the nomination, but the rift between the Pacquiao and Duterte factions has escalated.
“I am a fighter, and I will always be a fighter inside and outside the ring,” Pacquiao, 42, a senator, said in a live-streamed speech during the assembly. “I am accepting your nomination as candidate for president of the Republic of the Philippines.”
Pacquiao’s faction has not expressed support for Duterte’s vice-presidential bid. Duterte is prohibited by the constitution from running for a second six-year term as president.
Despite his popularity, Pacquiao, who’s one of the greatest boxers of all time and the only man to hold world titles in eight different divisions, trails the front-runners in opinion polls that have been topped consistently by Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio.
In July, Pacquiao was voted out as PDP-Laban leader, weeks after challenging Duterte over his position on China and record on fighting corruption, but his ouster was rejected by his faction.
Pacquiao, once a close ally of Duterte, had said more than 10 billion pesos ($200 million) in pandemic aid intended for poor families was unaccounted for, adding this was just one discovery in his planned corruption investigation.
His anti-corruption crusade comes as the Senate has opened an investigation into alleged overpricing of medical supplies and equipment purchased under the government’s pandemic response programme.
On Wednesday, Pacquiao sued a popular evangelist in his native Philippines for libel. The lawsuit targets Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, a preacher popular with millions of Filipinos, who accused Pacquiao of embezzling public funds in building a sports complex that has been labeled a “white elephant.”
“He used this deliberate falsehood to brainwash the minds of the Filipino public,” Pacquiao said of Quiboloy in announcing his lawsuit, in which he is seeking $2 million in damages.
“He even had the audacity to quote the Holy Scripture in furtherance of his lies, misleading his flock and confusing the public, with the end view of blackening (my) reputation,” the lawsuit claims.
The accusations arise from Pacquiao’s role in the building of the Sarangani Sports Training Center, which he sponsored as a senator. Though senators are elected at-large in the Philippines, Pacquiao was a congressional representative for Sarangani from 2010-2016. The district often ranks as one of the poorest regions of the Philippines.
In 2018, Pacquiao sponsored a bill to develop the sports center, and President Rodrigo Duterte signed it into law the following year. Though the budget for the facility is 200 million Filipino pesos, a social media campaign claimed that 3.5 billion pesos were committed to the project. (An investigation by Rappler, a local media outlet, determined the higher cost to be false.)