Philippines Senator Manny Pacquiao – better known internationally as one of the most successful prize fighters of the 21st century – has vowed his full support for President Rodrigo Duterte and his war on drugs, asserting that he believes that God sent Duterte to save the nation.
Referring to Duterte as “the anointed one” in an interview with Reuters, Pacquiao vowed his full support for the president, who assumed the nation’s top office in June after making the eradication of drug crime by any means necessary the cornerstone of his campaign. Since then, Duterte has established a bounty for civilians who personally detain or kill drug offenders and promised police who kill drug suspects absolution should they be charged with homicide.
International human rights observers have expressed concern with Duterte’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach. In response, Duterte has called both Pope Francis and President Barack Obama “son of a whore;” threatened to “whack” UN observers “in the head;” and responded to EU concerns with “f— you.”
Pacquiao, who did not endorse Duterte’s campaign but has now become a key ally of the president’s in the Senate, says his attitude is necessary for a nation that has forgotten the fundamentals of respect. “God put him there for a reason, for purpose — to discipline the people,” he argued. “In the past administrations, people didn’t respect the law, the leader, the authorities…. What Duterte is trying to do is let the people know — and put it in their hearts and minds — that you need to respect the law of the land.”
Pacquiao referred to Duterte as a “respectful person, a hospitable person, a friendly person” and “a very nice guy.” The two are from the Philippine island of Mindanao, where Duterte served as mayor of Davao City for 22 years, and have a lengthy friendship. “He helped me a lot. He helped me with the promotion when I started in boxing. One of my fights held in Davao, he sponsored it,” Pacquiao told Reuters.
That friendship has its limits, however. Pacquiao tells Reuters that Duterte did not know that, as a young man, he had tried “all kinds of drugs.” He did not believe that this would affect their relationship, though, because Duterte “always gives a chance to people who want to be changed.”
Duterte, while presiding over an anti-drug campaign that he has himself referred to as “bloody,” has repeatedly asserted that his government will provide rehabilitation services for any drug-addicted person who surrenders to police. As part of his campaign against drugs, he is working to fundraise to build more rehabilitation services, even suggesting converting a newly-discovered methamphetamine lab into a rehabilitation facility.
Pacquiao served a six-year term in the Philippine Congress before winning election to the Senate in June. He promised to retire from boxing at the time to be able to handle a full-time Senate appointment. But he faces Jessie Vargas in Las Vegas in November.
While Pacquiao has admitted to a lascivious lifestyle in the past, he became a born-again Christian in 2012, and has since been an outspoken supporter of Christian beliefs in the predominantly Catholic nation. His faith attracted negative attention when he compared LGBT individuals to “animals,” a statement he later apologized for, and has made him the target of radical Islamic groups on the island of Mindanao.