I‘VE always been an ardent admirer of Manny Pacquiao, but his alliance with Rodrigo Duterte, the recently elected president of the Philippines, has unnerved me. We all know boxing is a dirty game, but its child’s play compared to politics in the Philippines.
Duterte has been accused of orchestrating more than 3,000 extra-judicial killings of alleged drug dealers and addicts since he took office in June. Police and pro-Duterte death squads have carried out these murders with impunity. He knows the populace of the Philippines is easily cowed and has apparently doubled down on violence.
“Hitler massacred three million Jews,” Duterte said. “Now there is three million, what is it, three million drug addicts [in the Philippines]. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”
This is the man Pacquiao called “the anointed one,” put there by God to “discipline the people.” When asked if he approved of the summary executions, Manny said, “of course.” He also advocates the re-establishment of the death penalty. Manny has not limited his support to lip service. The happy-go-lucky warrior seems to have morphed into the angel of death. He led the charge in the Philippine Senate to oust Leila De Lima from her position as chair of the Justice and Human Rights Committee. Having launched an investigation into the vigilante killings in Davao City when Duterte was mayor, De Lima already had two strikes against her. But instead of a hooded man with an Uzi, it was Pacquiao in a business suit who championed the vote that removed De Lima from her position of power.
How did it come to this? How did Pacquiao get mixed up with such a reprehensible individual as Duterte?
Although Pacquiao harboured ambitions of becoming a politician years before he was elected to the Philippine House of Representatives in 2010, it was not until he was elected to the Senate in 2016 that he became allied with Duterte. Oddly enough, Manny ran as a member of the United Nationalist Party, while Duterte headed the PDP-Laban party ticket. Now they are attached at the hip.
There is almost no idealism in Philippine politics. Everyone wants to be with the winner. Politicians there are famous for going whichever way the wind blows, switching parties to whomever is in power. There is no loyalty to one’s party or to a set of principles. Since Duterte won with such a wide margin, all congressmen changed over to his party. When Manny switched sides, he claimed he was with Duterte all along.
It’s all very simple: Pacquiao wants political power. If Duterte were a peace-loving hippy that wanted to make drugs legal, Manny would support him all the way. He is a Senator because he is famous, not because he stood for anything beyond the ambiguous “help the people” platform.
Pacquiao hid behind his interpretation of the Bible when his cruel comments about the LGBT community earlier this year drew criticism. Now he’s doing likewise to excuse Duterte, at a time when global condemnation of his brutal policies is mounting.
Pacquiao’s true test will take place back home in the Philippines. It could come down to a very basic choice: Have the guts to stand up for human rights whatever the cost, or stand next to Duterte, cheering as democracy gets flushed down the toilet?
Pacquiao is a future Hall of Famer, nothing that happens in or outside the ring can change that. He was, and still is to a large extent, a magnificent fighter. What he does in the political arena will ultimately decide what kind of man he is.
This column was originally published in Boxing News magazine