Ready to rumble

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

After that meek comment that he was simply trying to help when he said there is corruption in the Duterte administration, it looks like Sen. Manny Pacquiao is now in fighting form.

He has ignored Duterte’s suggestion that he should stay home, stop being a Senate absentee and focus on his work – although the President did not say outright that Pacquiao should scrap his upcoming fight with world welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.

Perhaps Duterte knows how stopping a Pacquiao fight would not sit well with the masses in the Philippines, where everything slows to a standstill as people watch on screen whenever the boxing icon has a bout.

And perhaps something got lost in translation in Duterte’s verbal jab about staying home to focus on work. For Pacquiao, boxing is work – in fact his real bread and butter, with his Senate seat largely a bonus for his popularity.

Last Saturday night, Pacquiao ended his training in his native General Santos City and flew to Los Angeles, where he will continue his preparations at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood for the 12-round bout at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Aug. 21. (The flight was diverted to Tokyo-Haneda and had to return to NAIA due to another passenger’s medical emergency.)

I’m no sports fan, and I’m one of the few Filipinos who don’t watch Pacquiao’s fights. But this time I’m following developments in his upcoming bout, because of the potential impact on the Duterte administration and its hoped-for continuity beyond June 30, 2022.

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The outcome of the fight will surely have an impact on Pacquiao’s political plans for 2022 as well as Filipinos’ perceptions of him.

As narrated by Sen. Panfilo Lacson, Pacquiao is bent on seeking the presidency. Pacquiao has not denied this story. And clearly, a faction of his party the PDP-Laban is not interested in fielding him as its standard bearer in 2022.

In fact, what’s likely to happen is that the faction will oust Pacquiao as acting president during a PDP-Laban national council meeting this July 17. The faction claims to have the numbers, and counts party chairman President Duterte and vice chairman Alfonso Cusi in its ranks.

On the other hand, the party’s executive vice chairman, Sen. Koko Pimentel, whose father Aquilino Jr. founded the PDP-Laban while fighting the Marcos dictatorship, described the faction as a “rogue group” pushing a party “outsider” to be its 2022 standard bearer.

The Supreme Court may have to rule on which faction is the legitimate PDP-Laban, just as the tribunal did in the case of the once ruling Liberal Party.

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For now, Pacquiao is clearly bent on stepping up his training after a two-year break.

Defeat will reinforce the insults hurled against him by his estranged party mates led by Duterte, who say Pacquiao is eyeing the presidency because at 42 he is now a boxing has-been, and with his Senate term ending in 2022, he has nowhere else to go.

Victory over Spence will obviously boost Pacquiao’s popularity. It could spook the “rogue group” and intensify the attacks we’re now increasingly seeing against Pacquiao on multimedia.

Even those who think Pacquiao should stop inflicting himself on the nation as a public official acknowledge the honor he has brought to the country as a boxer and admire his fighting spirit. He placed seventh in the 2016 Senate race. In July 2019, he bucked the odds and at 40 became the oldest welterweight champion when he beat Keith Thurman by unanimous decision.

Now Pacquiao is bent on proving that he’s no has-been. Since I know little about the world of boxing, I’m relying on the analysis of veteran sports watchers on Pacquiao’s chances against the 31-year-old Spence. So far the odds appear to be 50-50. That should be good enough for a 42-year-old who hasn’t fought in two years.

Here’s local sports analyst Snow Badua talking to GMA News Online: “Pacquiao has been on a two-year hiatus. What did he do? He ate, attended the Senate, slept late, played chess, he did everything that can take a toll on his body.”

Surely Duterte and his energy chief Al Cusi agree.

On the other hand, here’s the analysis of former US welterweight champion Danny Garcia, who lost to Spence last December: “Manny’s not gonna fight you if he don’t think he can beat you. He’s a legend. He’s not gonna fight you if he don’t think he has a chance to beat you.”

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Pacquiao has shown that he won’t be easily counted out of any fight – whether in the ring or in politics. There are suggestions that if Duterte does seek the vice presidency next year, Pacquiao’s best revenge is to seek the same post and win.

Last Saturday, after initially showing deference to the President and chairman of his political party, Pacquiao announced that he was in possession of documents proving that billions have been lost to corruption in several government agencies. He singled out the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which he said failed to distribute P10.4 billion in pandemic aid.

He said he would turn over the documents to the Senate Blue Ribbon committee for investigation. The panel, as we all know, is headed by another bête noire of Duterte, Sen. Richard Gordon.

There is the possibility that because of Duterte’s dare for Pacquiao to specify cases of corruption in the administration, people are providing the needed proof to the boxing icon. Not necessarily because they want him to become president, but merely to belie Duterte’s claim of clean governance.

Shortly before leaving for the US for his fight with Pence, Pacquiao had told Agence France Presse: “I feel so hungry again and excited (for) the fight... I feel that same feeling that I had when I was at 22, 23 years old.”

The words could apply as well to his intensifying political battles.

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