Manny Pacquiao is quick on his feet, has great instincts, formidable power both to his right and left and a knock-out one-two combo. Push the boxing metaphors far enough, and you have the makings of a political campaign. Pacquiao (42) who registered as a presidential candidate for the 2022 elections in the Philippines and announced his retirement from professional boxing earlier this week, is undoubtedly one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. But in the political arena, it’s all that much harder to go the distance. And like in the boxing ring, no one wants the decisions to go to the judges.
It’s not as though Pacquiao is a complete novice to Philippines politics, or is merely trading on his fame as a sportsperson. He has served as a senator and was once close to outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte. Recently, though, Pacquiao has been vocal about the alleged misappropriation of relief funds meant for the poor in the aftermath of the pandemic as well as Duterte’s “cosy” relationship with China. That Duterte is contesting for the post of vice-president on a different ticket (the Philippines constitution bars him from being president for six years) makes it seem that he is trying to circumvent the rules in order to retain power. In an era of populist strongmen, a boxer — who is also a national hero and international icon — certainly has a fighting chance. Besides, Pacquiao has, literally, punched his way out of poverty, which gives his slogans some credibility.
Given that Pacquiao is oscillating between third and fourth position in opinion polls at the moment, his task is cut out for him. His real challenge, though, will be to provide the people of the Philippines with an alternative to the violent, populist government of his one-time political ally. But then, boxers — far more than politicians — know the importance of the rules of the game.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 2, 2021 under the title ‘Punching up’.