Regret comes at the end
It has been interesting to watch Manny Pacquiao’s evolution during this campaign period.
Last year, the public watched him stumble through unsubtle attempts to distance himself from President Duterte. This came after years of lackluster legislative accomplishment in his Senate seat. In a clear bid to appeal to the public, he began to strike an independent path by criticizing Mr. Duterte’s stance on the West Philippine Sea. He made loud, bold claims of corruption in different agencies, vowed to expose those involved, promised housing for all of the Filipino poor.
Such efforts to curry political favor have now given way to a degree of more sophistication, with Pacquiao attending debates and issuing statements with an admirable amount of improved preparation. Not all moments were stellar; some debates and interviews were painful to watch, not because of his dogmatic Christianity but because of a lack of preparedness to defend it. Still, he mostly succeeds in selling his particular brand of well-intentioned, if slightly less academically accomplished, president.
He has been largely dismissive of poll results, which show him trailing behind Vice President Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos Jr., confident in securing the votes of like-minded Christians and sure that he has silent supporters among classes D and E. He may still be correct. It would be unwise to discount Pacquiao as a presidential candidate when he is bolstered by international fame, as well as some amount of charisma.
Late in his campaign, we notice more attempts to put himself directly opposite Marcos Jr. and statements on martial law and its evils. Late last year, Pacquiao already commented on the need to return the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, but he was, otherwise, not a loud critic of either Marcos the dictator or Marcos the son. Then, last month, Pacquiao took a veiled swipe at those who called him unintelligent, saying “Ang pinakabobo dito sa bansa natin ay yung boboto ng magnanakaw.” (The last word has been widely used on social media by rival campaigns to refer to the dictator’s son.) He also challenged Marcos Jr. to a one-on-one debate after the latter’s continued absences. He also publicly criticized a Marcos statement about corruption being part of the human condition, saying, “Can you imagine feeding your family with stolen money?” This week, Pacquiao cautioned the public of the likelihood of a return of martial law with a Marcos win. “I have no problem with whom you support,” he said, “but I tell you, regret always comes at the end.”
For Pacquiao, regret may well come at the end. For the sake of his presidential aspirations, he could have opted sooner to separate himself from the more unpalatable of the administration’s policies. Far too many voters remember him as an ineffectual senator, whose work was far outweighed in the public’s minds by his offensive remarks on homosexuality. Far too many remember him, too, as an enabler of the administration’s policies. He had memorably voted to pass the controversial anti-terror law, only backpedaling this year that the law should be amended so that it should still uphold human rights.
He is also remembered as someone who shares the President’s strongman tendencies. He has been vocal about his support for the death penalty, only recently amending this opinion, and the President’s drug war, seeming not to grasp the worrying scale of extrajudicial killings and warrantless arrests that have characterized it. He expressed that he will kill drug importers during the recent Commission on Elections debate.
For those seeking a different type of leadership than the strongman type, one characterized by transparency, inclusivity, probity, decency, and collaboration, they are less likely to vote for someone who was a silent supporter, and thus an enabler, of the current administration. For those seeking a friendly replacement to Mr. Duterte, they are less likely to vote for Pacquiao who broke with the President toward the end of the former senator’s term. For those seeking to avoid a Marcos return to power, the pink opposition, as well as Leody de Guzman’s leadership, have been able to capitalize on this sentiment earlier and to much greater effect. The tide may yet turn for Pacquiao, but he may now be regretting his laxness in senatorial life, his previous poorly weighed statements, and his campaign’s failure to court anti-Duterte and anti-Marcos voters earlier and more effectively.
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