As Duterte-Pacquiao rift widens, ruling party’s future hangs in the balance
MANILA, Philippines—The bond between President Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Manny Pacquiao, once considered “strong,” is now showing cracks.
The widening rift is offering another example in the saying that in politics, there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests.
After almost five years of having Pacquiao’s backing, Duterte, in a recent late night address, took offense at a statement, attributed to the senator, claiming the Duterte administration is more corrupt than previous ones. Duterte dared Pacquiao to name corrupt offices or he would launch a negative campaign against the boxer-turned-politician.
“If you fail to do that, I will campaign against you because you are not doing your duty. Do it because, if not, I will just tell the people: Do not vote for Pacquiao because he is a liar,” Duterte said.
Early this June, the President also threw a jab at Pacquiao for saying Duterte’s response to Chinese incursions in West Philippine Sea was lacking.
“It’s about foreign policy. I would not want to degrade him but next time he should, study first before entering discussions,” Duterte said of Pacquiao.
But before the cracks broke, the two supported each other which Duterte is now citing against Pacquiao. “You have said nothing all these years, but you were all praises for me. Then now you say [we’re] corrupt. Where’s the corruption? Which offices?” Duterte said addressing Pacquiao.
While Pacquiao ran for senator with then Vice President Jejomar Binay’s coalition in 2016, Duterte, in his last campaign rally, asked his supporters to vote for the boxer-turned-lawmaker.
Duterte took the helm as the country’s President with 16,601,997 votes while Pacquiao won a Senate seat with 16,050,546 votes.
Pacquiao was one of Duterte’s strongest allies, backing his bloody war on drugs. In an interview in 2016, he said, “President Duterte and our policemen do not want to violate the law. They follow due process. You know, there are some drug lords who kill their men because their men might reveal what they are doing.”
He also backed the government’s bid to reimpose the death penalty, saying that it is “lawful, moral, and a sanctioned governmental action.”
Deflecting Pacquiao’s political plans
But in an abrupt turn, Pacquiao is now one of the “greatest threats” against Duterte’s political plans.
“It is common knowledge that Senator Pacquiao is open to running and, I think, the reaction of President Duterte is like, this early, he wanted to deflect the political plans of Pacquiao,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
“They’ll hit, like a knockout punch, Pacquiao this early,” Zarate said.
He said Pacquiao’s hits in the “political brawl” is something that threaten the Duterte administration, especially with the popularity of the senator, “not only in boxing, but in politics as well.”
In a Pulse Asia survey that was conducted last February 22 to March 3 of this year, Pacquiao was preferred by 11 percent of voters as possible candidate for president along with Sen. Grace Poe, defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno.
In 2015, in a survey also conducted by Pulse Asia from May 30 to June 5, 2015, Duterte, who was then the local chief executive of Davao City, was ranked as third among top options for the presidential race in 2016.
“Pacquiao has already been doing his populist rhetoric on housing projects even if he’s not yet in politics,” said Zarate.
“That is why the President’s posturing is being hit because he was not able to deliver his promises. That is why he’s hitting Pacquiao now,” he said.
The lawmaker said the cracks in Duterte’s bond with Pacquiao and even inside the so-called “solid Duterte coalition” are clearly visible. “We expect more of these brawls in the coming days and months, especially after the filing of the certificates of candidacies.”
Rift weakens PDP-Laban
In December 2020, Pacquiao took the helm as acting president of the ruling party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). The following months, the rift started as he hit the government stance in the West Philippine Sea.
The following weeks, the President directed Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, the party’s vice chair, “to organize, convene, and preside over the council meeting”, but Pacquiao told members to “ignore” the call as it was not sanctioned and that it violated the party constitution.
For political analyst Ramon Casiple, if the rift will not be resolved, it will “weaken the party and possibly lead members to separate camps.”
“As of now, it is still an inner party struggle with PDP-Laban, but it’s hard to have an agreement, considering that Manny Pacquiao might possibly seek the presidency,” he said.
“He (Pacquiao) has already in mind, actually, that he is a possible candidate, but then the President expects his daughter to be the one,” Casiple added.
A report quoting Malacanang said Duterte had asked his daughter, Sara, to run for president in 2022 but the now Davao City mayor refused.
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