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Renegade

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2021 - 12:00am

The man, it seems, is at war with his own party.

This week, PDP-Laban secretary general Al Cusi called for a meeting of members of what is, in principle, the ruling party. Immediately, Sen. Manny Pacquiao issued a statement asking party members to ignore Cusi’s call.

The shelf life for this piece of news appears brief. It disappeared from all media platforms almost as soon as it happened. But it did not escape the attention of those closely observing the goings-on among the political party formations.

This is, after all, not the first time Pacquiao took issue with his party – or at least a significant faction within it. A few weeks ago, he admonished a provincial branch of the party clamoring that President Rodrigo Duterte seeks the vice presidency in the next elections.

In countering Cusi’s call for a meeting, Pacquiao offers a rather lame excuse: In the midst of a pandemic, it is not time to talk about politics. We will still be in a pandemic well into next year. If we go by Pacquiao’s excuse, the ruling party will be completely unprepared for next May’s elections.

Pacquiao’s lame excuse echoes that of Vice President Leni Robredo, who appears to be postponing announcement of her political plans as long as possible. In the meantime, she hopes nothing moves in the electoral terrain.

But things have started moving as the period before the next elections shortens. Political parties will talk politics. That is what they do.

It is no secret that Pacquiao is gunning for the presidency. He just does not know how to get that done. Each time he makes an overt move towards that goal, someone shoots him down. The last time, when he tried to get himself included in the 1Sambayan shortlist of nominees, his record of absenteeism in both houses of Congress was brought up.

He at least has a social media team in place. I came across one of his videos that committed sacrilege on the hymn “Bayan Ko.” It presented him as a solution to lift every Filipino from poverty. I am sure that badly conceived video provoked more disdain than support. I hope, for his sake, that his team found the good sense to take it down.

There is no doubt about Pacquiao’s immense name-recall. The boxing hero has easily leveraged his extreme popularity to win elective posts. What he has done in those posts is quite another matter. But voters will critically examine that record the next time.

There is no doubt Pacquiao has immense wealth from his winnings in the boxing ring. The word in the market is that the oversized Forbes Park mansion he acquired a few years back in on sale.

He has spent his money as freely as he made it. He has not invested enough, apparently.

The wealth he flaunts with abandon could be a liability when he declares his presidential bid. Few donors will feel compelled to donate to his cause, believing he has enough to self-fund his ambition. Everyone else will expect him to throw money around like it was going out of style. With his career in its sunset, he might find it hard to replenish.

There seems to be some unease between Pacquiao and the Davao-based Duterte loyalists. In the 2019 elections, many Duterte loyalists chose to set up Hugpong sa Pagbabago rather than work with the PDP-Laban. Hugpong is an alliance of regional political blocs that now seems to be driving the campaign for Sara Duterte.

Over the past few months, Pacquiao has been trying to create some distance between him and the President. He seized upon the contrived controversy over the administration’s handling of the South China Sea issues to present a tougher stance towards China.

His anti-China posturing might have been intended to win favor with the 1Sambayan group. The leading personalities in this group seem to want hostility towards China to be the decisive issue in the coming elections. The surveys, however, show general disinterest in these territorial issues as the basis for choosing the country’s next leader.

Pacquiao must have realized he is playing with the wrong card and flirting with the wrong coalition. The 1Sambayan group seems disinterested in taking the boxer into their fold. As abruptly as he started posturing as the tough guy against China, Pacquiao fell silent on the matter.

More than a social media team, what Pacquiao desperately needs now is a policy group. This will prevent him from flailing all over the place on every conversation of the day, appearing like a candidate without a cause.

The only reason Pacquiao appears so hostile to convening a meeting of PDP-Laban members is that he has no control over the agenda and the outcomes. There does not seem to be a significant bloc of party members enthused by the possibility of a Pacquiao presidential run.

In which case, it is unlikely that Pacquiao will ever be able to control the political party he needs to mount a presidential run. This is especially true after the boxer appeared to criticize President Duterte’s handling of foreign policy.

The man courts peril in refusing the conduct of party consultation on the grounds of his inability to control outcomes. It is an anti-democratic stance. He risks becoming a renegade candidate, cast out by his party’s rank-and-file.

It is not too late for Pacquiao to recalibrate his strategy – if he has one. He must provide voters a good reason they would want him president.

RODRIGO DUTERTE
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