MANILA, Philippines – “Alam ni VP kung gaano ako ka-loyal na tao pagdating sa mga kasama ko (The Vice President knows how loyal I am to my peers)."
Boxing champion and Sarangani Representative Manny Pacquiao is not ditching Vice President Jejomar Binay even after his friend, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, declared a presidential bid for the May 2016 polls.
The senatorial bet, who changed parties twice in his political career, said he will remain loyal to Binay, the opposition standard-bearer. Pacquiao is “100% running” under Binay's United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
“Talagang magkaibigan kami, close kami,” Pacquiao said of Duterte. “Hindi iyan maapektuhan dahil ito, politics lang ito.” (We are really close friends. That won't be affected because this is just politics.)
“Ang pagsama ko kay VP hindi iyon dahil sa kami ay magkaibigan din kundi naniniwala ako sa plataporma ng UNA: 'yung paninindigan at 'yung programa para sa taong-bayan na ang priority is 'yung mga taong mahihirap dahil kami ay nanggaling sa hirap.”
(My relationship with the VP is not just because we are friends but I believe in the platform of UNA: standing up and having programs for the people where the priority is the poor because we both rose from poverty.)
Pacquiao spoke in a press briefing with Binay and other UNA senatorial bets in his hometown of General Santos City on Friday, November 27. The press conference was held on the same day Duterte filed his candidacy for president.
Both from Mindanao, Pacquiao and Duterte are long-time friends. The tough-talking Davao mayor has said that Pacquiao's rags-to-riches story is an inspiration to Filipinos. Duterte said last month he was eyeing Pacquiao to be part of his “dream team” of senatorial bets.
Coveted by all political parties, Pacquiao decided to run under UNA when he filed his candidacy on October 16. The congressman was initially a member of the Nacionalista Party of former Senate President Manny Villar before bolting it for the ruling Liberal Party, and then joining UNA.
The absentee lawmaker is vying for one of 12 Senate seats on the platform of providing “quality, free public education,” protecting overseas Filipino workers, and offering a sports development program for the youth.
'We experienced poverty'
Pacquiao did not criticize Duterte for changing his mind about the presidency, and for sending mixed signals about his intentions.
“Ako naman kilala ninyo na hindi naninira at hindi umaatake ng mga pulitiko na tumatakbo. Hayaan natin ang taumbayan na pumili kung sino ang ihahalal nila,” he said.
(You know I do not destroy and attack politicians who are running. Let's let the people choose who they want to win.)
Binay also refused to comment on criticism of Duterte's motivations for running even after the deadline of candidacies on October 16. The Davao mayor wants to run for president by substituting his party mate, Martin Diño. Yet questions surround Duterte's candidacy because of an error on Diño's certificate of candidacy. (READ: Duterte faces 1st petition vs presidential bid)
“As a human rights lawyer, I respect what our countrymen say. So let's just respect it. I always say that I may not agree with you but I will defend your right to speak,” Binay said in Filipino.
Binay and Pacquiao repeatedly highlighted that they have one thing in common: they triumphed from poverty.
The Vice President was orphaned at a young age but ended up as a human rights lawyer, and mayor of the financial capital, Makati. Pacquiao started off as an aspiring boxer from a poor family in General Santos City, and worked his way up to become a world-renowned athlete. Unlike Binay though, Pacquiao does not face corruption allegations.
Binay said Pacquiao's story brought him to tears.
“Nagdaan ang panahon na isang araw hindi pala nakakakain ito? Natutulog ito sa kalye. Ayon, pare-pareho kami ng istorya sa buhay namin,” said the presidential bet.
(There was a time he would not eat in a day. He slept on the streets. We have the same life story.)
Binay styles himself as the candidate of the masses, in contrast with what he calls his “elitist” rivals. He is up against administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II, a Wharton graduate, Senator Grace Poe, who lived and worked in the United States, legal luminary Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Duterte.
In his sorties, Binay is fond of recounting how his mother died of breast cancer, forcing him to to become the household help of his uncle.
Pacquiao echoed the line: “Hindi lang namin alam na may problema 'yong mga tao. Hindi lang namin alam na may problema ang bansa natin kundi ramdam namin kung paano ang kahirapan.”
(We do not just know the problem of poverty of the people. We do not just know the country's problem of poverty but we ourselves felt what it was like to be poor.)
Binay defends Pacquiao's absenteeism
Pacquiao also asked for “understanding” from the public as he focuses on preparing for his last fight set on April 9, instead of spending time explaining why he should be elected senator.
“Ito'y maaaring last fight na ito na in-announce ko, at napakaganda siguro na magpaalam sa taong bayan bago gampanan iyong napakalaking tungkulin na gagampanan ko pagdating ng panahon,” Pacquiao said.
(This might be the last fight I will announce, and it would be good if I can say goodbye to the people before I fulfill my duty when the time comes.)
Pacquiao seeks a Senate seat despite a poor attendance record in Congress. He was present in only 4 session days at the House of Representatives in 2014.
Binay said this was not an issue to him, as he believes in “time management.”
“What's important is Congressman Pacquiao focuses on addressing poverty, hunger and joblessness when he becomes senator. Quality time is what's important. It's not the number of hours spent.”– Rappler.com