MANILA, Philippines – It was a debate between a veteran and a neophyte, as Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and athlete-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao discussed Pacquiao's bill, which seeks to create a Philippine Boxing Commission.
It was Pacquiao, a world-renowned boxer, who sponsored Senate Bill Number 1306 seeking to "strengthen the industry" and promote the safety of boxers and other combat fighters.
But for Drilon, there is no need to create a separate commission. The existing Games and Amusements Board (GAB), he said, could be strengthened instead.
"Why are we creating a new agency when the GAB can perform these functions?" asked Drilon.
Pacquiao replied that his bill seeks to update reviews and standards of the industry, as well as to collect fees and create linkages to foreign boxing agencies. He said the new agency would implement stricter requirements for boxers.
Drilon was not satisfied with Pacquiao's answer and repeated his question: "I guess the question is, are those functions today being performed by GAB?"
"Yes, Mr President," Pacquiao answered.
"So if they are being performed now, why do we have to create a new body which will perform new functions?" Drilon said.
Pacquiao then paused, as his legislative staff was coaching him. He then went on to say: "The [difference] is this review and update of rules and procedures relating to professional boxing and combat sports. They are not in the GAB and also to establish linkages to institutions, with counterpart agencies in order to facilitate participation of Filipino professional boxers."
A confused Drilon then said: "Can we have a clearer answer? I'm sorry, I cannot catch the essence of the answer."
At one point, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, who was leading the session at the time, tried to explain the question to his friend Pacquiao.
GAB can't focus
Pacquiao insisted on the need for a law creating a new boxing agency. While he recognized the GAB has jurisdiction over the sport, he said the agency lacks manpower and focus as it currently oversees 22 sports.
"They can do that but my purpose here is to focus this commission on different and hard sports," he said.
"It's a long time already. There are many boxers who died in the ring because of lack of, lack of requirement. That's why I'm taking action with the new commission, including combat sports," he added, citing the death of his co-boxer and friend in the 1990s.
But Drilon said: "The point we're driving at, with all due respect, is that all these things can be done. Instead of creating a new body, the present GAB can be monitored closely."
"We provide additional funds. If there are 22 sports that they're supervising, we provide them with enough manpower so that the issues can be addressed. Creating a new bureaucracy, just to address boxing mismatches for example, is not necessary," he added.
Pacquiao stood his ground, telling Drilon that he knows how it feels because he himself fights in the ring – a point Drilon dismissed.
"We regret that we could not subscribe to the view. We can strengthen the GAB, we can add more people. If there are 154 people [in the GAB], we can provide more people rather than create a new bureaucracy for this purpose," he said.
Pacquiao said he is willing to "fight" for his bill: "I'm willing to fight [for] this, for the boxing commission, because I know, I'm a boxer. I know the feeling of being [an] athlete in this combat sport. I hope the gentleman won't be offended [by] this boxing commission."
Drilon then told the neophyte senator that differences in view are common in "a deliberative body" such as the Senate.
"Kanya-kanyang opinion (We all have our own opinions). At the end of the day, it will be the body who will decide. That's the nature of [a] deliberative body," Drilon said.
It was Pacquiao, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier motioned to oust Drilon and other Liberal Party allied senators from their key committee posts.
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email firstname.lastname@example.org