Philippines Senator Manny Pacquiao Skips Senate President Vote, Duterte State of the Nation

Manny Pacquiao gets ready for the start of his WBA welterweight title fight against Keith Thurman at MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 20, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Newly crowned WBA Super World Welterweight champion and Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao skipped his president’s State of the Nation address Monday as well as the vote for Philippine Senate president, forced to delay a flight out of Las Vegas by his doctor.

Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) won a split-decision victory against the then-undefeated Keith Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs) on Saturday, making him the oldest welterweight champion in history at age 40 and the only eight-division champion in history. He intended to take a flight back to the Philippines immediately for what promises to be a pivotal week in his nation’s politics, but his doctors recommended waiting so his head could recover from the blows during the bout without contending with air pressure disparities from flying.

Pacquiao sponsored a key piece of legislation this month to reinstate the death penalty for drug criminals, the top policy President Rodrigo Duterte promoted in his State of the Nation address Monday night. Pacquiao is a longtime supporter and ally of Duterte, as both hail from the island of Mindanao, where Duterte completed over two decades as mayor of Davao City. Mindanao is largely less wealthy than Luzon, the island where Manila is located; Duterte is the first president in Philippine history from Mindanao.

Pacquiao left for the Philippines on Sunday night, according to TMZ, and was scheduled to arrive Tuesday local time in the Philippines. Pacquiao, a devout Christian, used the extra time in Las Vegas to hold an “early morning Bible session” at the MGM Grand Arena and play chess, his team told reporters.

Pacquiao was one of two senators to miss the vote for Senate president, won by Sen. Vicente Sotto III, a Duterte ally. The other senator not to vote, Leila de Lima, is facing charges of ties to drug trafficking and under police custody.

Pacquiao also missed the State of the Nation address, an annual speech by the president to Congress highlighting the administration’s successes and typically requesting support for the president’s policies akin to America’s State of the Union address. He is expected to attend Tuesday’s Senate session, the first in which the lawmakers will be working on specific legislation.

The presidential palace, Malacanang, issued a statement congratulating Pacquiao on his fight against Duterte.

“Although his opponent, Thurman, is way younger than him, our pound-for-pound king did not show any signs of intimidation as he embodied what a Filipino spirit is all about – a fighter,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said. “Pacquiao’s victory is not on his, but of the entire nation. As such, the Palace is one in rejoicing with the Filipino people as the Pambansang Kamao once again puts the flag above the pedestal with his display of [tenacity] and courage.”

Thurman is ten years younger than Pacquiao.

Senate President Sotto attended a viewing party for the fight, similarly proclaiming, “Manny’s still got the endurance, age doesn’t matter,” according to Philippine outlet Rappler.

Duterte did not mention Pacquiao in his address but did urge Congress to act on his proposed bill restoring the death penalty. “The illegal drug problem persists. Corruption continues and emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives. I respectfully request Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs, as well as plunder,” Duterte said. Duterte has repeatedly promoted the use of extrajudicial killings and vigilante justice against drug suspects.

Pacquiao introduced the death penalty bill, to be debated this week, in early July along with longtime Duterte loyalist and freshman senator Christopher “Bong” Go. Pacquiao’s bill would give judges sweeping sentencing powers that would allow them to call for capital punishment for individuals convicted of importing or selling illegal drugs and for anyone convicted of conspiring to help them. Pacquiao also introduced a bill to establish a federal Department of Homeland Security, which would give Duterte more power to crack down on both drug criminals in jihadists, particularly prevalent on Mindanao.

Pacquiao has already indicated that, despite his full legislative agenda, he would be open to granting Thurman a rematch. Given his attendance at Saturday’s fight, some have speculated that Pacquiao may also secure a rematch against retired fighter Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (50-0, 27 KOs), who defeated Pacquiao by unanimous decision in 2015 in one of the most widely panned fights of Pacquiao’s career, as Mayweather meticulously avoided engaging Pacquiao directly.

Friday’s fight, the Philippine outlet ABS-CBN stated, was “Pacquiao’s best since his dazzling win over Antonio Margarito [41-8, 27 KOs] in 2010,” recalling that the senator engaged the Mexican boxer a year after Margarito was caught filling his gloves with plaster to hurt his opponents more, potentially devastating the career of champion Miguel Cotto (41-6, 33 KOs). Cotto lost to Margarito in the fight before officials found the plaster in his gloves, a surprise win that his team insisted must have been aided by illegal substances in his gloves.

Manny Pacquiao has the worst attendance record in the Philippine Senate, largely due to his full-time boxing career, according to a June report by the Senate Public Relations and Information Bureau (PRIB).

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