But space is starting to open between Pacquiao and Duterte ahead of next year’s presidential election, casting uncertainty over future leadership of the ruling PDP-Laban party. Over the weekend, Pacquiao, who has supported the war on drugs in the face of condemnation from international rights groups, was voted out of his role as party leader after criticizing Duterte’s record on government corruption and lack of assertiveness toward China.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who called the vote, was installed as party president.
But on the day of the political tumult, Pacquiao had other priorities to balance. More than 7,000 miles away, he was cooling down after what he described to reporters as his “longest run ever,” 6.2 miles, at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, hanging out with cheerleaders and a mariachi band, showcasing his preparations for the coming bout, Philippine news site Rappler reported.
Many in the Philippines, including other top politicians, defend Pacquiao’s focus on boxing. Rufus Rodriguez, the deputy speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives, called Monday for a “cease-fire” on political “attacks” against Pacquiao so that he can focus on his fight.
“There should be nothing to distract and bother him,” Rodriguez said. “We will have time for divisive politics after the fight.”
Pacquiao is something of a Renaissance man. He was a congressman, and now a senator. He’s won 12 major world boxing titles. He’s won titles in eight weight divisions — from flyweight to welterweight. He’s a pop and ballad singer (He’s recorded his own ring entrance song). He’s an Evangelical Christian preacher. He was a Philippine Basketball Association player-coach. He also runs a farm.
During the past month, tensions between Pacquaio and the president flared publicly for the first time. Pacquaio has supported some of Duterte’s most controversial moves, including the reintroduction of capital punishment. “Even Jesus Christ was sentenced to death by the government,” the born-again Christian boxer said in 2017.
In 2016, Duterte asked his supporters to rally behind Pacquiao in his senatorial bid. The president has not taken well to Pacquiao’s newfound criticisms.
“I will hound you every day. I will expose you as a liar,” Duterte said in televised remarks. “You didn’t tell me anything all these years, you’re all praises and praises for me and now you’ll say corrupt.”
“When you are a champion in boxing, it does not mean to say that you are a champion in politics,” Duterte said in an early July news briefing.
PDP-Laban is pushing for Duterte to run again, this time as vice president. Duterte has not disavowed the idea, saying the move could give him immunity from lawsuits after his six-year term ends. Pacquiao’s name has been floated as a possible candidate, although it would be hard for the two to share a ticket without resolving their differences.
In Duterte’s goal to hold power, Pacquiao is “clearly the spoiler,” Philippine commentator Joey Salgado wrote in a column for Rappler.