Commentary PHL Vote 2022

Captain Pacman, anyone?

Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao wants to run for president in the 2022 elections. But based on his stated plans for the country, he seemingly has the illusion of becoming a superhero instead.

In an online interview a week ago, the boxing champ said that the country’s problems are “simple lang (merely simple),” noting that the government spends way above the amount it generates in revenues. So, it ends up borrowing to sustain government operations.

He cited figures from “last year” during which the national government budget was at P4.5 trillion while revenues totaled only P2.9 trillion. Pacquiao must be referring to the 2021 budget. Last year’s outlay was P4.1 trillion.

Nonetheless, he offered a “simple” solution to the problem. Likening the country’s budget to that of a household spending P50,000 a month, the two-term senator said the family’s income should be bigger than the expenses. The “mindset,” he said, must be in having more jobs than applicants. “Trabaho ang dapat maghanap sa tao (Jobs should look for applicants).”

Simplistic argument, isn’t it! But he didn’t say how he’s going to do it.

He went on to say that the country remains heavily in debt and that “there is no economic growth and development” because of its biggest problem – corruption. “Because of corruption, ang daming mga kawatan diyan sa gobyerno (there are so many thieves in government),” he told interviewer Anthony Taberna.

Asked if corruption remains widespread under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, Pacquiao replied: “Ang daming kawatan diyan sa gobyerno (There are so many thieves in government).”

Without any provocation, the senator declared: “Kung ako maging president, magkakamatayan diyan, pero (If I become president, people will get killed, but), I will declare war against corruption.” And how will he do it? “Gusto ko ipakulong lahat ng mga kawatan diyan sa gobyerno… mapu-frustrate ako kung bababa sa 100 ang makukulong (I want all thieves in government jailed… I will be frustrated if less than 100 will go to jail).”

Here’s more: “Kung ako maging president, four to five years wala kang makikitang squatter sa buong Pilipinas. Lahat magkakaroon ng sariling tahanan, lalo na ang Metro Manila, lahat ng squatter magkakaroon sila ng tahanan, condominium o subdivision. Wala silang babayaran kahit piso (If I become president, in four to five years, you wouldn’t see any squatter in the entire Philippines. All will have their own homes, particularly in Metro Manila, all squatters will have their own houses, condominium or subdivision. They will not pay even P1).” Whoa! It sounds too good to be true.

Pacquiao believes he can do it, saying that he has given away houses, helped many people and made them happy, even before he entered politics in 2010. In fact, he said, nearly half of his winnings in each of his fights had been given away to help the needy. He said he did not want to brag about these, but he was prompted to do so because of traditional politicians “with crab mentality” who have been asking what he has done for the country and trying to tarnish his name that he has been trying to keep unblemished for so long.

In the course of the online interview that lasted more than an hour, Pacquiao said he had no interest in politics and, at one point, said he regretted joining politics, which he described as dirty. But then he said he wanted to leave a legacy not just as a boxing champion but as a leader who inspires.

He said he “can easily forget politics, but not the commitment to serve.” After laying down his too simplistic solutions to the country’s problems, Pacquiao said he has not decided at this point whether to run for president or not. There’s a right time to talk about politics, he said.

Asked if he was considering running for vice president, Pacquiao said the country has too many pressing problems that must be attended to instead of talking about politics. “Dapat magkaisa tayo… paano ma-maximize ‘yung tulong na maibibigay sa tao” (We should unite… how to maximize the assistance we can give to people). Didn’t that sound like a true-blue traditional politician?

Listening to the interview can either bring you to wonderland if you won’t think how Pacquiao can make his dreams a reality or leave you nauseated as he jumps from one illusion to another and, at times, gives a statement that conflicts with a previous one.

With his enormous wealth gained from winnings in his boxing bouts, Pacquiao wouldn’t need the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan to finance a national campaign. There was talk last year that he was designated the party’s acting president because of his money.

But the presidency is completely different from being just one of the 24 senators, not even when one is a boxing champ. Pacquiao’s promise to declare war against corruption is not new. Several past presidents made the same vow. President Duterte committed to end corruption in the bureaucracy within three to six months of his presidency, but five years into, had said several times that he had underestimated the problem and realized he could not stop it during his term.

Where will Pacquiao get the extraordinary powers to make the Philippines free from corruption and squatters? Can he be Captain Pacquiao, or Super Manny? Should we be hoodwinked again with a “change is coming” slogan, just phrased differently?

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

This column also appeared in The Manila Times.