The veteran Filipino boxing hero Manny Pacquiao has told activists he would jail some of his former political allies who were jailed for corruption if he becomes president next year.
Pacquiao, a senator for seven years, launched his political career in 2009 in a convincing victory over a female former beauty queen in a jungle contest. But critics say he has been caught up in a cash-for-votes political gamesmanship that inflamed an already divisive political environment.
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President Rodrigo Duterte has the constitutional right to name his successor, after he won the largest majority in the May national elections and picks his successor. The other top positions are government-appointed.
Pacquiao has used his platform to raise the profile of Duterte’s presidential rival, former interior minister Mar Roxas, who has led surveys to win the election outright. Duterte’s political allies had secretly petitioned voters to deny Roxas access to the polls for being so little known outside Manila, the capital.
The candidate formally launched his presidential bid on Friday at the Ilocos Sur provincial seat, one of his strongholds.
“They say that I am rich and I don’t want to open my financial statement. I have nothing to hide and I will contest these allegations,” Pacquiao said at the launch, in which he cast aspersions on his rivals for the job.
Former Philippine senator Manny Pacquiao addresses supporters during his election campaign. Photograph: Chito Gokongwei/AP
“And if somebody who doesn’t give [up] and is able to make it as a senator in this corrupt country, what moral right is there for these people to demand that I give [up] my dream that I will become a president of this country?”
Analysts have said that, despite having a regional reach and going toe-to-toe with Tokyo-based congressman Grace Poe in a beauty contest, he faces difficult odds.
Pacquiao’s fans have hope in their idol though, despite doubts about his political credentials.
Chants of “Manny-Manny!” rang out through the crowd gathered to hear him speak at Ilocos Sur.
The 34-year-old, who will be making his third consecutive run for president, said he had the moral authority to run for the post.
“There is no cure for corruption, nor jail or any punishment,” he said. “It takes the moral conviction and courage to fight and dedicate your life to change the system, to change that.”
During a recent interview with CBS News, the Republican did not rule out jailing former allies for corruption. “First, of course you can,” he told the US network. “When the chips are down, everything is on the table,” he added, refusing to elaborate on specifics.
His promises to fight graft and violent crime have sparked nationwide rallies and massive street rallies.