PACQUIAO BANKING ON 'ZERO CORRUPTION', 'PERFORMANCE' IN CONGRESS TO WIN


[THE NOW equally famous Mommy D, the name that Dionisia Pacquiao adopted after her rise to fame as a TV comedienne and product endorser, shows off the dancing skills she acquired during a campaign rally of her son’s party, People’s Champ Movement, in General Santos City. AQUILES Z. ZONIO]

MANILA, APRIL 29, 2013 (INQUIRER) Eight-division boxing champ and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao is banking on his so-called performance and “zero corruption” campaign to pull off wins for his party-mates against formidable election opponents in South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City.

Although he is unopposed in his reelection bid in the lone district of Sarangani, Pacquiao has taken the role of a kingmaker in the region, giving his time, efforts and resources to boost the chances of candidates under his own party, People’s Champ Movement (PCM), which has coalesced with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

His wife, Jinkee, is vying for vice governor of Sarangani against a veteran and tested opponent, incumbent provincial Board Member Eleanor Saguiguit of the Liberal Party, and independent candidate Jose Lorde Villamor.

Pacquiao’s younger brother, Rogelio, is up against incumbent Pedro Acharon Jr., in the first district, which covers General Santos and the towns of Polomolok, Tupi and Tampakan in South Cotabato.

Pacquiao has teamed up with General Santos’ top councilor and son of a billionaire fishing tycoon, Ronnel Rivera, who is trying to unseat incumbent Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio.

Custodio won by over 30,000 votes against Pacquiao when they faced off during the 2007 congressional race.

Performance yardstick

During the opening campaign salvo of the PCM-UNA, Pacquiao boasted his performance as a lawmaker. But his critics are asking: What performance?

According to the website of the House of Representatives, Pacquiao, in his first term as lawmaker, authored 12 bills and coauthored 47 others. Not even one measure became a law.

“During his first term as congressman, Sir Manny focused on meeting what the constituents want,” said his chief of staff in General Santos, Bren Evangelio. “We provided projects based on the recommendations of barangay captains and mayors.”

“On his second term, we will focus on addressing the needs of the people,” he added.

From 2010 to 2013, Evangelio claimed that his boss constructed about 20 multipurpose mini-gymnasiums throughout the province through his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

“We rehabilitated a public market and constructed barangay halls, water systems, a slaughterhouse and classrooms in different towns of the province,” he said.

This is apart from the livelihood projects, scholarship program, medical and mortuary assistance that Pacquiao had extended to poor residents of the province.

“On top of these, Sir Manny has given lots for landless residents and has been spending P2 million to P3 million a month out of his own pocket to settle the medical bills of poor patients from Sarangani in a GenSan-based private hospital,” Evangelio said.

From 2013 to 2016, he said, Pacquiao would set aside much of his PDAF for building health centers, birthing homes and classrooms in various towns in his district.

Dynasty

When Pacquiao ran in 2010, he promised to make a difference in politics and governance. He presented himself as an alternative candidate willing to help uplift the living conditions of residents and bring in investors to boost the local economy.

Pacquiao has hardly made any difference in the political scene. Critics have accused him of starting his own political dynasty and engaging in money politics in Sarangani—issues that he himself had raised to defeat Roy Chiongbian in the 2010 congressional race.

In General Santos, Pacquiao has succeeded in uniting opposition forces for the first time. He and another billionaire, Rivera, are combining resources to try to overcome the well-entrenched and well-oiled political machinery of the Antoninos.

In Sarangani, Pacquiao’s foray into politics has not made a great impact on the lives of residents in terms of directly providing jobs or inviting outside capital to generate jobs. The boxer has no investment in the province; all his businesses—hotel, water refill station, fitness gym, boutique, gas station, coffee shop and radio station—are based in General Santos.

“So far, Pacquiao has not invested anything in the province,” said Gov. Miguel Dominguez, who is not running for any political position. “Except for his house and beach resort in Kiamba. I don’t consider his resort an investment as it is located in a protected marine sanctuary.”

Despite his popularity and charisma, Pacquiao failed to lure investors, local and foreign alike, to come to Sarangani, Dominguez added.

Zero corruption

In his campaign sorties, Pacquiao loves to brag that candidates under the PCM-UNA are not corrupt, that they will not steal people’s money.

His record as a public servant has no tinge of corruption as yet. In fact, he’s spending his own money to provide the needs of his constituents.

“Give them a chance and I promise they will not steal your money. If ever they do, I assure you that I will personally campaign against them in 2016 election,” Pacquiao said in Visayan during one of his sorties.

But some candidates belonging to his party have tainted track records in public service. For instance, one of his closest allies who is seeking reelection as a provincial board member, had been convicted by the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan for his involvement in a fund scam.

A former mayor, whose stint was beset by corruption issues including the highly irregular sale of a public park in General Santos, is one of those aspiring for a seat in the city council under the PCM-UNA.

Pacquiao’s political disciples have been accusing the Custodio administration of corruption. They saw traces of irregularities in infrastructure projects like the P293-million sanitary landfill and the P44-million Plaza ng Heneral Santos.

Custodio, however, challenged them to back up their accusations with documents and file charges in court. If they cannot do so, she said, their charges are but cheap political propaganda.

“A thorough check of their background and track record would bare that they are nothing but a pot calling the kettle black. They are politicians with soiled image, not real advocates of good governance,” the mayor said.

EARLIER REPORT FROM TIME WORLD NEWS

Where Manny Pacquiao Is the Underdog: Philippine Politics By Andrew Marshall / General Santos City Tuesday, Mar. 30, 2010


[Filipino welterweight boxing champion Manny Pacquiao waves to supporters during a motorcade celebration in Manila]

If you're looking for the headquarters of the People's Champ Movement, the political vehicle of Philippine boxing god Manny "Pac-Man" Pacquiao, here's some advice: take a torch. Lying at the end of a murky corridor in a building in General Santos, a city in the southern Philippines plagued by power shortages, the two-room office is cramped, sweltering and lit by a single candle. And the emergency generator? "Broken," admits Grace, a staff member, fanning herself with an envelope.

It's a long way from the dazzling lights of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where earlier this month the Pac-Man demolished Ghanaian challenger Joshua Clottey in 12 low-thrill rounds to retain his World Boxing Organization welterweight crown. The disarray at party headquarters suggests that his next fight — campaigning for a congressional seat in the nearby province of Sarangani in the May 10 elections — won't be so easy.


[Roy Chiongbian & Manny Pacquiao]

His opponent this time is Roy Chiongbian, a U.S.-educated businessman from a wealthy and well-entrenched political dynasty. "Pacquiao is up for a very tough fight," says Prospero de Vera, professor of public administration at the University of the Philippines. "Sarangani is relatively poor and local politics is very traditional. The Chiongbians have had a stranglehold on power for decades."

(See pictures of the rise of Manny Pacquiao.)

Breaking that stranglehold will take more than just popularity and money, both of which Pacquiao has by the truckload. On March 26, upon his return from the Clottey fight, he was mobbed by media and jubilant fans at the airport, before being driven in a bulletproof Chevrolet Tahoe guarded by armed police to Sarangani. Roughly the size of Rhode Island, Sarangani (pop. 411,713) is a coastal province where people scrape a living from fishing or farming. Pacquiao grew up in the province's sleepy town of Kiamba, and with one eye on the congressional campaign built a house there in 2008.

To run for office, Pacquiao must establish the fiction that he actually lives in Sarangani. He must also shake off the memory of his last foray into politics — a bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in neighboring South Cotabato province in 2007. Then, his opponent was also an incumbent from a political dynasty. "He was basically clobbered," says de Vera.

(See the meaning and mythos of Manny Pacquiao.)

Chiongbian is withering about his famous opponent's chances this time around. "Although he is popular as a sportsman, it's very different being a politician," says Chiongbian, who soft-launched his campaign by celebrating his 61st birthday at his family's 2,718-acre (1,100 hectare) plantation near Kiamba.

"Tiger Woods is the No. 1 golfer, but he can't be, let's say, a race-car driver. We have our limitations and our skills." He believes Pacquiao's popularity plays against him: many voters don't want their national hero dirtying his hands in politics. "People like to see him as a boxer, not a politician," says Chiongbian, who has never run for public office before.

Still, "Sir Manny" — as his staff reverentially call him — is a more formidable opponent than Chiongbian will ever admit.

Pacquiao is approaching round two of his political career with at least some of the searing focus he usually reserves for the boxing ring. "Last time, I wasn't prepared," he tells TIME, as he tours his would-be constituency. "I was very confident [because] I was famous. This time I'm ready." And confident. Asked if he's going to win, he flashes his delinquent smile. "Landslide," he says.

That might be pushing it, but Pacquiao promises a slicker campaign this time. "I've already established my [political] machinery," he says. "It's like a car. It's fixed already. You just have to get in and drive it."

He has the support of tycoon Senator Manny Villar, a presidential candidate, who joined him on his Sarangani homecoming. On the campaign trail, Pacquiao has fewer bodyguards separating him from adoring fans and voters. Warming up crowds on the campaign trail are his wife Jinkee and mother Dionisia, a.k.a. "Pac-Mom," both household names in the Philippines who were largely absent from his previous campaign.

And while he is no Ali, Pacquiao is an effective speaker, telling crowds about his family's struggle with poverty in an intimate, conversational style. "No notes," he explains. "You speak from deep in your heart. It's easy."

Pacquiao is also devout, which could win the support of bloc-voting church groups. "The most important thing as a leader is your relationship with God," he tells the crowd while campaigning in Kiamba, where many people wear T-shirts bearing the boxer's face and the slogan, in English, "For God and Country."

Yet Pacquiao's main pitch to voters has remained unchanged since 2007: I understand the poor man's woes, while my opponent is aloof and élite. Roy Chiongbian doesn't claim to have the Almighty on his side, but then perhaps he doesn't need him so much. Sarangani is a family affair. The province's borders were drawn in 1992 by Chiongbian's late father; his mother was its first governor. The current congressman is his brother and the vice-governor his nephew. Incumbents have a natural advantage over challengers, since they have had years — in the Chiongbian family's case, decades — to dispense favors and appoint loyalists. "Popularity is not enough to overturn favors which have been granted over several years or several terms," warns de Vera.

Legendary American trainer Freddie Roach is credited with turning Pacquiao from a promising boxer into a world champion. It's unclear if he has a political Roach, or if the ferociously single-minded Pacquiao would listen anyway. "I advised him not to run," says Luis Singson, political kingpin of the northern province of Ilocos Sur, who gave Pacquiao the bulletproof Hummer that ferries him around Manila and who shares his passion for cockfighting and gambling. "I told him, 'Give priority to your boxing. Later on you can go into politics.' But he's committed already." What are his chances of getting elected? "Good," says Singson, unconvincingly.

"Don't run" isn't the only advice Pacquiao has ignored. His first love is boxing, but cockfighting and high-stakes gambling — preferably both at the same time — come a close second. Singson warns that gambling will drain Pacquiao's fortune and besmirch his populist image. "I told him, 'People look at you as their idol. It's bad if they see you gambling.' So now he's stopped [going to] casinos already." Really? Less than two days after his homecoming, the boxer could be spotted playing Texas Hold'em at a windowless poker joint in Manila in the small hours. Peering protectively through nearby pot plants was his Canadian über-gofer Mike Koncz, who sat next to a bag of money. Twelve hours later, Pacquiao was still playing.

Running for Congress is a gamble with much higher stakes. Sarangani might be a small district, but political analyst de Vera estimates Pacquiao will have to spend up to $2 million "to stand a chance of winning." That's nothing by the standards of U.S. elections, but a fortune in a rural backwater with only about 270,000 registered voters. Eric Pineda, one of the boxer's bewildering array of advisers, calls $2 million a "paltry" sum. Another adviser, Jeng Gacal, says "the sky's the limit" when it comes to election spending.

For most Pac-Man fans the world over, the battle for Sarangani is a distant sideshow. The opponent that everyone really wants Pacquiao to fight is undefeated American welterweight Floyd Mayweather Jr. But first a deal must be sealed — the boxers could split $50 million, or the biggest purse in boxing history — and Mayweather must fight his compatriot Shane Mosley on May 1. Will Pacquiao take a break from his last hectic week of campaigning to watch the fight? Bet on it.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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