Whether in boxing or politics, Manny Pacquiao never throws in the towel. He did not earn the distinction of holding championship titles in eight different weight divisions by quitting the fight, even with the odds stacked against him.
And so it is with politics. This same heart of a fighter, which turned Pacquiao into a beloved Filipino sports icon, kept him in the presidential race to the very end, even when most thought he should never have forayed into politics, much less seek the highest position in the land.
A tussle within his original political party, the PDP-Laban, did not shake the retired boxer’s resolve to run for president in the 2022 elections.
Pacquiao, whose rags-to-riches story has captured the hearts of Filipinos, pushed through with his candidacy under the revived Cebu-based PROMDI political party, its name most appropriate for the first-term senator.
And just as he did in the ring with every fight, he would throw punches at his rivals, unafraid to call them thieves, liars, and corrupt. He also warned voters that supporting a candidate whose morals and character are tainted reflected their values.
Stumping around the country, Pacquiao mostly pulled people with similar aspirations as he did before making a name as a boxer. He never fails to mention that his lived experience growing up poor made him fully understand the hardships of those living in poverty.
His generosity and kind-heartedness, which he showed even before seeking a congressional seat in 2007, which he lost, left a mark on supporters, who remain loyal to him outside the arena where he was first known.
Four committed supporters interviewed by VERA Files agree that Pacquiao genuinely represented the poor. They believe that if elected, he will replicate his charitable works nationwide – providing houses for the homeless, scholarships for the poor youth, and food for the hungry.
From the most vote-rich province of Cebu, 45-year-old buy-and-sell vendor Ronald James Liam said Pacquiao’s run for the presidency provided the poor like him an opportunity to be on equal footing with the affluent and more renowned families.
The senator’s battlecry to end corruption if he wins resonates with his supporters. Corrupt practices, he said, are the root of poverty. His bold declaration of building a mega-prison for unscrupulous officials often has people attending his rallies cheering in agreement.
His deep-seated desire to end corruption while remaining corrupt-free and his generosity have earned the senator loyalty among people who used to be fans but are now believers he is qualified to lead the country.
“Sinuportahan ko po si Manny Pacquiao dahil siya ay walang bahid na kurakot sa ating lipunan. Tapos tumutulong siya sa mga mahihirap. Katulad ng namimigay ng bahay. Nagpapaaral sa mga bata na hindi mapag-aral ng kanyang mga magulang. Nagbibigay ng pagkain sa mga bata sa kalye,” Wenn Eulalio, 36, said. She is a leader of a barangay volunteer group campaigning for Pacquiao in Passi, Iloilo.
(I support Manny Pacquiao because he is not involved in any corruption. He helps the poor. He provides housing and free education for the children whose parents cannot sustain their education. He gives food to children on the streets.)
For 47-year-old mother-of-two Milany Pinuela Sesuca, with Pacquiao as president, their voices had a better chance of being heard.
“Dapat si Sir Manny iboto natin kasi para siya sa mahirap. Para siya dapat sa atin kasi tayo mahirap (We must vote for Sir Manny because he is for the poor. He is for us because we are poor).” she said.
His promise to go after corrupt officials, litigate and resolve corruption cases through a “People’s Court” within three months and throw the guilty in prison is the backbone of the Pacquiao campaign.
He and his running mate, BUHAY Party-list Representative Lito Atienza, have a “22-round agenda” to implement should they be elected. Aside from ending corruption, the list includes economic growth and development, job creation, education, health, housing, agriculture, judicial reforms, tourism, infrastructure, and sports development.
The retired-boxer-turned-politician vows to source funds for his proposed programs by boosting the collection of non-tax revenues to increase government resources and stopping corruption, claiming it bleeds the government around P700 billion to P1 trillion per year.
Voter wish list
People are betting on Pacquiao to win the presidency for something more than a better future.
The boxing champs’ camp encourages its supporters to list down what assistance they wish to receive from the presidential aspirant if he wins.
The senator has been promoting, on social media, a list of his projects, including free housing for select people in Alabel, Sarangani, free food, and relief goods for victims of calamities. His camp also launched the https://mplibrengpabahay.com/, a website where Filipinos can fill up a survey form to indicate the assistance they want to receive, such as jobs, livelihood, and free education.
Eulalio, the eldest of 11 siblings and family breadwinner, said Pacquiao captured the hearts of her fellow Ilonggos by giving assistance to typhoon victims. A relative from Cebu was also a recipient of cash from Pacquiao in 2016 as relief assistance.
“Iyong relief goods sa Ajuy (Iloilo), nagpadala siya ng bigas. Kaya, ayon, parang nahulog iyong loob ng mga tao sa kaniya (Pacquiao sent relief goods including rice in Ajuy (Iloilo). It made the people fall for his (actions),” she said. “Kasi kahit hindi siya tatakbo, nagbibigay siya po ng pagkain. (Even when he was still not a politician, he was already giving food.)”
Sesuca, whose livelihood depends on raising and selling pigs, hopes to receive free education for her youngest child, who will enter college this coming September. This despite the two Iloilo universities — West Visayas State University and Iloilo Science and Technology — where her child took an entrance exam, offer free higher education.
She has organized a barangay volunteer group for Pacquiao campaigning in Dueñas, Iloilo. When recruiting members, she requires them to list their personal information and the things they wish to receive, such as free housing or educational assistance. Sesuca’s 30-year-old niece, Norma Andola, who has mental disability, also enlisted to receive livelihood assistance.
Majority of the people will view this activity as a form of vote-buying, based on the Omnibus Election Code, which states a person is considered buying votes by giving, offering, promising money or anything of value.
But according to Renante Uy, the senator previously explained during a meeting in late March that his mplibrengpabahay.com is not “equivalent” to vote buying, nor does it constitute an election offense. Uy is a part of the core group that founded the Iloilo-wide volunteer Manny Pacquiao sa 2022 – Ilonggo Group.
“Hindi naman porma ng vote buying kasi nasa programa niya iyan. Nasa agenda niya iyan na magbibigay siya ng libreng edukasyon, pabahay kapag siya ay naging presidente (It’s not a form of vote buying because it is part of his program. His agenda includes free education and housing if elected as president),” the 43-year-old massage therapist from Passi City, Iloilo said.
Regardless of the result of his presidential bid, Uy, Sesuca and Eulalio are confident that the lawmaker, who is the second richest senator as of 2020, will continue providing free assistance especially for the poor.
“Sabi ng mga volunteers ko at saka ako, matalo o manalo si Sir Manny tumutulong talaga siya sa mahirap. Hindi hinihinto iyong (pagtulong). Hindi siya nagsa-stop. Kahit hindi pa siya senador noon, nagbibigay po siya ng pabahay,” Sesuca said.
(My volunteers and I believe that Sir Manny will still help the poor whether he wins or loses. He will not stop. Even when he was not yet a senator, he was already giving houses.)
Simple campaign highlights character
Mobility restrictions due to the pandemic, has hampered the Pacquiao campaign. But some of his supporters are ready to take up the cudgels to inform the voters of his plans and promises through personal campaigning and social media.
Pacquiao’s simplification of the problems of ordinary folks is what endeared him to supporters. This more than makes up for what is seen as his lack of qualification to be president. His having the heart and compassion for the marginalized is what compensates for leadership qualities that he may lack.
While he may throw a punch or two at opponents, Pacquiao remains a gentleman and is the epitome of a man with character worth emulating.
Controversies due to his stance on issues that are contrary to his faith have not dampened the spirit of his supporters.
The born-again Christian does not support same-sex marriage, divorce, and abortion. His stand on death penalty is not quite clear, owing to his religious beliefs, although he continues to support the execution of drug importers.
Sesuca, a Roman Catholic, agreed with Pacquiao’s stand on all the mentioned issues, saying he is “just basing” his opinion on the bible.
With regards to backing another vice-presidential bet other than Atienza, Pacquiao has told core supporters he had thrown his support behind Senate President Tito Sotto, running mate of Sen. Ping Lacson.
Based on records, Pacquiao indeed visited a restaurant in Mandurriao, Iloilo on March 31. During his visit to the province, he said that he might adopt Sotto if Atienza withdrew. Sotto was his choice because not only was he corrupt-free, the Senate leader was also very strict with the budget, crucial to properly operating the government.
The senator, 43, has been conducting caravans, motorcades and rallies, among other campaign activities, to court the 65.745 million registered Filipino voters. He will conclude his 86-day campaign journey in his hometown General Santos City on May 7, where he also launched his campaign in February.