Commentary PHL Vote 2022

Pacquiao’s money politics

At the proclamation rally last month of boxing champ-turned-presidential aspirant Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, his mother, Dionisia, said in jest that she was worried her son would run out of money after the campaign because he has been giving it away.

Noong tumatakbo pa siya noong unang beses dito sa General Santos, umiyak ako kasi ilang sako na ng pera ang nakita kong nawala (When he was running the first time here in General Santos, I cried because I saw sacks of money gone),” Mrs. Pacquiao said before a local crowd.

Pacquiao first entered politics in 2007 when he ran against the then-reelectionist Darlene Antonino-Custodio for a congressional seat in South Cotabato. In 2009, he ran again and won as congressman of Sarangani province, the hometown of his wife, Jinkee.

This time, Pacquiao is seeking the presidency. His mother, who has gained popularity as the prayerful Mommy D, said her son has been very generous but is not corrupt, so he has been giving away his own money.

Pacquiao, who appeared embarrassed as his mother talked onstage, said later that he was not giving away cash during the campaign.

But going over his campaign statements, the first-term senator has been making too many promises that need huge amounts of money to implement, if and when he wins the presidency.

Pacquiao vows to allocate P400 billion in the first three years of his presidency for a housing program for the poor. He says no family should be homeless and no worker should be jobless.

He promises to build a mega-prison during his first three months for corrupt government officials. “I want to see the thieves in government in prison,” the retired boxing champion said in last month’s presidential debate.

Courting the votes of the labor sector, Pacquiao pledges to standardize salaries in all regions and raise wage rates.

He proposes to peg the salaries of health workers at a minimum of P50,000 a month and to double public teachers’ salaries.

While Pacquiao says he is unlike other traditional politicians who keep promising but breaking their promises once elected, he has not fleshed out his 22-round priority agenda, which he sums up as a “Health of the Nation” program. He has not identified the funding sources for the billions of pesos he would need to implement his plans.

Even if the government manages to collect the P203-billion estate tax debt of the family of fellow presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. under his administration, it wouldn’t be enough to carry out his promises.

Pacquiao had said he favors suspending the excise tax on fuel. According to the Department of Finance, this would mean potential revenue loss of around P130 billion a year.

Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches story may have endeared him to fans worldwide. Many could relate to his campaign against “systemic corruption” in government, which he blames for the country’s economic problems. The improvement in his public speaking and debating is impressive. But he needs to tell us where he will get the money for his programs.

Remember that the government’s outstanding debt reached P11.7 trillion as of December 2021. Dealing with this huge obligation is a major problem for the next administration.

Yet, Pacquiao said he is hoping for a Philippines that is self-sufficient and free from mounting multitrillion-peso foreign debt, something that he promises to achieve if he is elected president in the upcoming elections.

Speaking during the “Presidential Job Interview” aired over radio station DZRH in early February, Pacquiao said he wants the Bureau of Internal Revenue under the Department of Finance to plug leakages and collect more taxes. This is something almost all previous presidents promised while campaigning and even after winning, but the leakages still abound.

His statement that he wants the government to refrain from borrowing from international financial institutions may sound attractive but, given the ballooning budget deficit and the inability of the revenue-raising agencies to run after big-time tax evaders and plug the tax loopholes over the years, seems unrealistic.

After all, Mommy D’s worries may sound prophetic. If Pacquiao wins, he may have to dig deep into his pocket if he is to keep his campaign promises. For the love of country and public service, is he willing to let go of his billions earned from his boxing wins?

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.