Duterte-Pacquiao rift will ultimately benefit the country

The verbal tussle between President Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao is not bad at all. They should be encouraged to go on with the exchange in order that we would know them better.

It’s amusing to hear one absentee challenging another over his truancy and questioning one another’s sincerity in ending the menace.

Ending corruption in the bureaucracy is Duterte’s campaign promise and an oft-repeated commitment since his inauguration in June 2016. In the past five years, however, his anti-corruption efforts have been marked by the sacking and recycling of officials.

Countless times, he said he had contemplated resigning because he could not contain corruption as he had promised. In his 2019 State of the Nation Address, Duterte was candid enough to admit that “corruption is everywhere,” and even joked that he was praying an earthquake would come so when all congressmen, senators and the president are killed, “we will have a new day.”

A few times in the past, Duterte mentioned Pacquiao as a potential candidate for president in 2022.

Recently, however, the president was pissed that Pacquiao, a party mate and a longtime ally, claimed that corruption under the current administration is three times worse than its predecessors.

Pacquiao began his tirade against corruption when interviewed nearly a month ago about his political plans. Asked if corruption remains widespread under the Duterte administration, the senator replied: “Ang daming kawatan diyan sa gobyerno (There are so many thieves in government).”

Duterte, in his regular “Talk to the People” show on June 28, dared Pacquiao to “go to Congress and start talking” so that he could “investigate them and refer it to the other bodies who have the punitive… punitive, ibig sabihin ‘yan (that means), the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan.”

The President said if Pacquiao would not be able to substantiate his claim and fail to identify the corrupt offices and persons, “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. “I am not questioning your ability intellectually or what. But ‘pag hindi mo nagawa ‘yan, araw-arawin kita, I will expose you as a liar.”

At ‘yong buhay mo, kilala man kita noon pa (And your life, I know you from way back). Then, we should start also because you are going for public office, presidency, everybody should know. But ito (this), I’ll put you on notice na isasabi ko lahat at kakalabanin kita sa panahon ng eleksyon (I will tell everybody and fight you during the election). ‘Pag hindi (If not), you’ll just be another son of a b***h playing politics,” the president further warned.

The Philippines’ ranking in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International was at 113 among 180 least corrupt nations. That was 14 notches below the 2018 ranking and 18 down from 2015, the last full year of the administration of the late president Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Before Pacquiao came out with a list of agencies where corruption is allegedly prevalent, Duterte began his offensive. “You know, he has a scheduled fight but suddenly nag-back out. Probably he knows that he is too old for that. And failing in his boxing career, kung matalo siya (if he loses), he is a goner, actually. Kailangan manalo siya, ‘pag natalo siya… (He has to win, if he loses…).”

Pacquiao disputed Duterte’s statement. “Tuloy ang aking laban at nakatakda akong umalis ngayong weekend para bigyan ng dangal ang ating bansa (My fight will push through and I am set to leave this weekend to give honor to the country).”

The more the two top leaders of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) engage in this verbal exchange over corruption, the more people will know about them and the easier it will be to decide which one to believe. The more they talk, the more we would discover their inconsistencies and public behavior, making it easy to decide if they are worthy of being elected to public office.

Both Duterte, the party’s chairman, and Pacquiao, the acting party president, are not PDP-Laban stalwarts. Their current posturing is obviously meant to take control of the party in time for the 2022 elections.

The PDP-Laban founder, the late senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., must be turning over in his grave over what the party has become. Pimentel’s son and namesake, Sen. Aquilino Martin “Koko” Pimentel III, has taken the side of Pacquiao in resisting the efforts of the faction identified with Duterte to wrest control of the organization.

If I were Pacquiao, I would respond to Duterte’s threat by simply throwing his statements back at him. Imagine Pacquiao telling this to the President: “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 Duterte because he is a liar… I am not questioning your ability intellectually or what. But ‘pag hindi mo nagawa ‘yan, araw-arawin kita, I will expose you as a liar.”

He should remind Duterte constantly about his promise to eradicate corruption within three to six months of his presidency and his threats to resign should he fail to do so. Duterte is now on his sixth year in office and admits himself that corruption remains.

Duterte, on the other hand, must keep on prodding Pacquiao to substantiate his claims. This way, we will know who should be held accountable for pocketing or misusing monies that should have been spent for basic services benefiting the underprivileged.

As this rift drags on, voters will come to realize that they’re not the kind of leaders the country needs and the brand of leadership they offer is not what we deserve.

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.