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Former pugilist, future president? Pacquiao files candidacy in Philippine race

Retired boxer Manny Pacquiao holding certificate of candidacy for Philippine presidency
Newly retired boxing great Manny Pacquiao shows off his certificate of candidacy for next year’s presidential elections in the Philippines.
(Jam Sta Rosa / Pool Photo)

Newly retired boxing star Manny Pacquiao filed his certificate of candidacy for the Philippine presidency Friday as registration opened for candidates seeking to lead a nation hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and deep political conflicts.

Elections officials instituted heavy restrictions to prevent the Oct. 1-8 registration period from drawing huge crowds of political supporters and becoming hotbeds for coronavirus infections. Aside from the presidency and vice presidency, more than 18,000 national, local and congressional posts will be contested in elections May 9, 2022.

Considered an Asian bastion of democracy, the Philippines has also seen electoral mayhem and violence. In 2009, gunmen deployed by the family of Maguindanao province’s then-governor massacred 58 people, including journalists, in an attack on an election convoy that shocked the world.

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About 3,000 police officers, including some patrolling in armored police vans, were deployed around the seaside convention complex in Manila where presidential candidates are expected to register. The area was declared a no-fly and no-fishing zone.

Aspirants can bring only up to three companions, who are required to undergo coronavirus tests, when registering their candidacies, to prevent a rerun of chaotic past scenes of candidates showing up with movie stars, music bands and rowdy groups of followers.

“We really went to great extent to make sure that the filing would be sober,” Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez said.

Manny Pacquiao will soon fight in his 82nd pro bout. Many think it is to boost his popularity before the upcoming Philippines presidential election.

Still, hundreds of fans and supporters in face masks and holding Pacquiao’s portrait and small Philippine flags lined the street leading to the heavily secured elections registration center by Manila Bay to cheer his convoy.

Many expect the race to succeed controversial President Rodrigo Duterte to be crowded and hostile. Pacquiao, former national police head Panfilo Lacson and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno have declared that they will seek the presidency, and others are expected to follow.

Pacquiao, who is currently a Philippine senator, and Duterte were staunch allies until they had a well-publicized falling-out this year as the election season loomed. They and their camps fought over control of the ruling party, and Duterte threatened to campaign against Pacquiao if the boxing legend could not prove his contention that corruption had worsened under the current administration.

“Those who take advantage of the nation, stealing, robbing the Filipino nation, your happy days of taking advantage in the government are already numbered because if the Lord places me there, I promise not only to the Filipino people, but also my promise to God, that they all will be put in prison,” Pacquiao told reporters after registering his candidacy.

Manny Pacquiao’s demeanor after Saturday night’s loss to Yordenis Ugas transformed what was essentially his professional funeral into a celebration.

The 42-year-old announced his retirement from boxing Wednesday after winning fans with his rags-to-riches life story and legendary career.

Duterte, 76, has accepted the ruling party’s nomination for him to run for vice president in a move that whipped up a constitutional debate and shocked opponents who have long condemned him as a human rights calamity.

Philippine presidents are constitutionally limited to a single six-year term, and a constitutional expert has said he would question Duterte’s candidacy before the Supreme Court since a successful vice-presidential run would put him within one step of the office again.

Western governments led by the U.S. and human rights activists have long raised the alarm over Duterte’s harsh police crackdown on illegal drugs, which has left more than 6,000 mostly petty drug suspects dead since he took office in mid-2016. The killings are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.

Hard-won access to family planning has diminished during the pandemic, with a resulting surge in births expected to strain healthcare resources.

Although Duterte remains popular in opinion polls, the drug killings and his handling of the pandemic, which led to one of the country’s worst recessions and widespread unemployment and hunger, are expected to be key issues in the election.

Activists have long compared Duterte to the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was ousted in a 1986 army-backed “people power” revolt that became a harbinger of change in authoritarian regimes worldwide. A son and namesake of Marcos, former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., is expected to contest the presidency and has received good support in independent opinion polls.

“The stakes are high for Philippine democracy,” Manila-based analyst Julio Teehankee said, adding that the candidate who can provide a clear and workable roadmap to navigate the country out of the pandemic and economic shocks would have a crucial edge.

The Philippines has reported more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases and 38,164 COVID-19 deaths — the second-worst figures in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.


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