Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao is a lot of things. He is the world’s only eight-division world champion. He is also a politician, a singer, a businessman, a basketball player and a preacher.
Can the 41-year-old add president of the Philippines to the list?
The possibility of “PacMan” gunning for the top post in the Southeast Asian country has been brought up before, mainly in the aftermath of high-profile boxing bouts against star sluggers like Timothy Bradley and Keith Thurman.
But speculation reached new levels after he was anointed head of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruling political party on Wednesday, a sign experts said was a positioning move ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.
Wearing a suit and facemask, Pacquiao took an oath in a ceremony before members of the ruling PDP-Laban, which was instrumental in Duterte’s landslide presidential victory in 2016. Duterte will remain the party’s chairman, but he can’t run again in 2022 due to constitutional rules, and he has in the past told Pacquiao he wants him to become president.
No less than Bob Arum, the boxer’s former promoter, said in June this year that Pacquiao told him he would run for post in the next elections.
“I did a Zoom telephone call with him, ‘Bob, I’m gonna run in 2022 and, when I win, I want you there at my inauguration,’” Arum said, recalling their conversation.
A devoted Christian in a country where the church remains influential, Pacquiao has responded to questions about a presidential bid by saying it would be “God’s will.” But in 2016, he was elected to the senate with 16 million votes. The senate has been a key springboard for some leaders in the past.
Pacquiao quickly trended on Twitter the day after his appointment as PDP-Laban president, with horrified Filipinos who expressed alarm at the thought of him as the president. Pacquiao has no leadership track record and has supported Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. He has also opposed any legislation favoring the LGBT community and said that gays are “worse than animals” though he apologized for the remarks.
The Philippines is crazy about boxing and Pacquiao would have the wealth, political allies and Duterte’s masterful campaign machine to help him if he decided to run. In 2019, Forbes cited Pacquiao as one of the ten richest athletes in the world after making $435 million from 2010 to 2019. He is expected to make even more money as he shows little interest in giving up fighting for good.
“With the money and popularity, he can win if he gets enough support from the local politicians,” Jan Robert Go, a political science assistant professor at the University of the Philippines, told VICE World News. “Of course, the move to make him president of PDP at this point is a clear positioning.”
Pacquiao came from an impoverished family in the southern province of Saranggani. His appeal to the masses is overwhelming as he actively donates a portion of his prize money to the poor through various projects.
For millions, he is a hero whose televised boxing matches make the entire nation grind to a halt. But he has yet to amass the same notch of victories in the political ring, and it remains to be seen if he can pull off a presidential victory.