When Manny Pacquiao visited Grand Cayman a few years ago to attend a local boxing show, he was feted everywhere, especially by the sizeable Filipino community. Some superstars are aloof and prickly with adoring fans. Not Pacman. He truly is a man of the people.
No amount of selfies, hugs, handshakes and autographs were too much, which is why his sporting legacy, now that he’s retired, will not just be one of the most decorated but one of the most loved and respected too.
Pacquiao announced on social media last week that at 42 he’s hanging up his gloves for good, retiring as the only eight-division champion in boxing history and as one of the greatest boxers ever. His 62-8-2 record includes 39 knockouts, a remarkable feat for a 26-year veteran who fought at elite level right to the end, two months ago, losing on points to Yordenis Ugas.
Senator Pacquiao now focuses on his political career to run for president. While he has received most of his acclaim in the United States for boxing, he’s been in the political arena in the Philippines since 2007, first as a house representative, then as a successful senator before targeting the top job.
Through his humane and selfless policies, Pacquiao is revered in the Philippines because so many can relate to his rise from poverty to ring stardom. Millions of his hard-earned earnings have gone to Filipino poor including building houses for the homeless and numerous programmes to feed, employ and clothe the underclass and to reduce its soaring crime rate. He’s aware that post-covid times the challenges will be even tougher.
Pacquiao may be in opposition at next year’s elections with President Rodrigo Duterte who has been a controversial figure worldwide due in large part to his War on Drugs, which, according to the Human Rights Watch, has led to the deaths of tens of thousands Filipinos. Although Duterte cannot officially run for a third term, he may run for vice-president or stand down completely to allow his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio to shoot for the presidential berth. Either way, the divisive leader will still heavily influence Philippines politics.
Despite his popularity, Pacquiao has drawn criticism for his opposition to same-sex marriage and his support of the death penalty. During his first year as a senator, he said that "if you have male-on-male, female-on-female (relationships), then people are worse than animals.” He also recorded the worst attendance from 2018 to 2019 as senator which is understandable considering his boxing and commercial commitments.
As Pacquiao moved toward a potential run for president, he was named acting president of the PDP-Laban in December 2020, but voted out as the leader in July after he began to challenge Duterte on China and on fighting corruption, according to Reuters. Nevertheless, his popularity and achievements so far makes him a strong candidate to take the country forward.