MANILA — Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao on Sunday officially announced he was running for president in next year’s elections, potentially facing off with incumbent Rodrigo Duterte’s chosen successor.
The news comes as no surprise to people in the Philippines, where the lines between celebrity and politics often blur.
Until this year, the boxer-turned-senator was supportive of Duterte, the populist president most known for a bloody war on drugs that has left thousands dead. Duterte is expected to run for vice president, in what analysts and critics say is a move meant to circumvent a single-term limit on the presidency.
But since June, the pair has clashed publicly, with Pacquiao criticizing the president’s policies toward China and corruption.
Pacquiao chaired the PDP-Laban until he was unseated by Duterte’s allies in July.
“When you are a champion in boxing, it does not mean to say that you are a champion in politics,” Duterte said of Pacquiao in July, adding that the star had, for years, heaped praise on his leadership.
Since taking office five years ago, Duterte has torn up the political playbook and has been widely condemned for his derogatory remarks against women and incitations to kill drug addicts and communists, among other outrageous statements.
The other party faction has nominated Christopher “Bong” Go, a senator and former Duterte aide.
Analysts expect Go to be a proxy for Duterte, who is bound by a single-term limit as president and must stay in power to avoid potential arrest by the International Criminal Court. The ICC announced last week it would proceed with an investigation of killings under Duterte’s term.
Pacquiao is the only eight-weight division world champion in boxing history and, in 2019, was listed by Forbes as one of the world’s highest paid athletes with earnings of around $26 million.
Pacquiao has continued his matches while juggling a career in politics — first as a congressman, then a senator — resulting in criticism about his absenteeism. In 2016, he came under fire and lost sponsorship from sportswear giant Nike when he called gay couples “worse than animals.”
Duterte’s daughter and Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who has led pre-election surveys, is another contender for the presidency. Both Go and the younger Duterte denied they would seek the position — but nothing is final until the filing of candidacy closes in October.
“Work hard in silence, let success be the noise,” Pacquiao tweeted last week.