Eight-division boxing champ and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao is banking on his so-called performance and “zero corruption” campaign to pull off wins for his party-mates against formidable election opponents in South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City.
Although he is unopposed in his reelection bid in the lone district of Sarangani, Pacquiao has taken the role of a kingmaker in the region, giving his time, efforts and resources to boost the chances of candidates under his own party, People’s Champ Movement (PCM), which has coalesced with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
His wife, Jinkee, is vying for vice governor of Sarangani against a veteran and tested opponent, incumbent provincial Board Member Eleanor Saguiguit of the Liberal Party, and independent candidate Jose Lorde Villamor.
Pacquiao’s younger brother, Rogelio, is up against incumbent Pedro Acharon Jr., in the first district, which covers General Santos and the towns of Polomolok, Tupi and Tampakan in South Cotabato.
Pacquiao has teamed up with General Santos’ top councilor and son of a billionaire fishing tycoon, Ronnel Rivera, who is trying to unseat incumbent Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio.
Custodio won by over 30,000 votes against Pacquiao when they faced off during the 2007 congressional race.
During the opening campaign salvo of the PCM-UNA, Pacquiao boasted his performance as a lawmaker. But his critics are asking: What performance?
According to the website of the House of Representatives, Pacquiao, in his first term as lawmaker, authored 12 bills and coauthored 47 others. Not even one measure became a law.
“During his first term as congressman, Sir Manny focused on meeting what the constituents want,” said his chief of staff in General Santos, Bren Evangelio. “We provided projects based on the recommendations of barangay captains and mayors.”
“On his second term, we will focus on addressing the needs of the people,” he added.
From 2010 to 2013, Evangelio claimed that his boss constructed about 20 multipurpose mini-gymnasiums throughout the province through his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
“We rehabilitated a public market and constructed barangay halls, water systems, a slaughterhouse and classrooms in different towns of the province,” he said.
This is apart from the livelihood projects, scholarship program, medical and mortuary assistance that Pacquiao had extended to poor residents of the province.
“On top of these, Sir Manny has given lots for landless residents and has been spending P2 million to P3 million a month out of his own pocket to settle the medical bills of poor patients from Sarangani in a GenSan-based private hospital,” Evangelio said.
From 2013 to 2016, he said, Pacquiao would set aside much of his PDAF for building health centers, birthing homes and classrooms in various towns in his district.
When Pacquiao ran in 2010, he promised to make a difference in politics and governance. He presented himself as an alternative candidate willing to help uplift the living conditions of residents and bring in investors to boost the local economy.
Pacquiao has hardly made any difference in the political scene. Critics have accused him of starting his own political dynasty and engaging in money politics in Sarangani—issues that he himself had raised to defeat Roy Chiongbian in the 2010 congressional race.
In General Santos, Pacquiao has succeeded in uniting opposition forces for the first time. He and another billionaire, Rivera, are combining resources to try to overcome the well-entrenched and well-oiled political machinery of the Antoninos.
In Sarangani, Pacquiao’s foray into politics has not made a great impact on the lives of residents in terms of directly providing jobs or inviting outside capital to generate jobs. The boxer has no investment in the province; all his businesses—hotel, water refill station, fitness gym, boutique, gas station, coffee shop and radio station—are based in General Santos.
“So far, Pacquiao has not invested anything in the province,” said Gov. Miguel Dominguez, who is not running for any political position. “Except for his house and beach resort in Kiamba. I don’t consider his resort an investment as it is located in a protected marine sanctuary.”
Despite his popularity and charisma, Pacquiao failed to lure investors, local and foreign alike, to come to Sarangani, Dominguez added.
In his campaign sorties, Pacquiao loves to brag that candidates under the PCM-UNA are not corrupt, that they will not steal people’s money.
His record as a public servant has no tinge of corruption as yet. In fact, he’s spending his own money to provide the needs of his constituents.
“Give them a chance and I promise they will not steal your money. If ever they do, I assure you that I will personally campaign against them in 2016 election,” Pacquiao said in Visayan during one of his sorties.
But some candidates belonging to his party have tainted track records in public service. For instance, one of his closest allies who is seeking reelection as a provincial board member, had been convicted by the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan for his involvement in a fund scam.
A former mayor, whose stint was beset by corruption issues including the highly irregular sale of a public park in General Santos, is one of those aspiring for a seat in the city council under the PCM-UNA.
Pacquiao’s political disciples have been accusing the Custodio administration of corruption. They saw traces of irregularities in infrastructure projects like the P293-million sanitary landfill and the P44-million Plaza ng Heneral Santos.
Custodio, however, challenged them to back up their accusations with documents and file charges in court. If they cannot do so, she said, their charges are but cheap political propaganda.
“A thorough check of their background and track record would bare that they are nothing but a pot calling the kettle black. They are politicians with soiled image, not real advocates of good governance,” the mayor said.