Philippines: Duterte’s Party Kicks Boxing Legend Manny Pacquiao out of Leadership

Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao says critics misunderstand Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
© AFP/File Patrick HAMILTON

The Philippines ruling party PDP-Laban expelled Boxing legend and Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao as its president this weekend in what observers view as a backlash against Pacquiao’s recent criticism of Philippine President and PDP-Laban chairman Rodrigo Duterte.

A faction of PDP-Laban led by Philippine Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, a close ally of Duterte, voted to oust Pacquiao from the party’s leadership position during a meeting on July 17, the Philippine news site Rappler reported on Monday. The faction then elected Cusi as Pacquiao’s replacement.

“The vote was carried out because existing officials were already past their two-year term limit,” Melvin Matibag, PDP-Laban deputy secretary-general, told reporters on Saturday.

In addition to serving as a Philippine senator since 2016, Pacquiao continues to fight as a likely future hall of fame boxer. He is currently in the U.S. training for an upcoming bout in Las Vegas and therefore was absent at the July 17 vote that knocked him out as PDP-Laban’s leader. President Duterte, who remains PDP-Laban chairman, did attend the vote, however, as it took place during a special meeting of the party known as a National Assembly.

“Party chair Duterte himself presided over the national assembly in Clark, Pampanga, starting around 3 pm on Saturday,” Rappler reported on Monday.

In a speech to the assembly, President Duterte said PDP-Laban was “strong as ever and … united in further consolidating our ranks until the end of my term and beyond.”

Duterte referred to the end of his term as president of the Philippines, which expires in June 2022. The career politician was elected to the Philippines’ top office on June 30, 2016. The Philippine president may only serve a single, six-year term, meaning Duterte is ineligible for reelection next year.

President Duterte implied during his PDP-Laban speech on Saturday he “could run as vice president many times over to avail of immunity from lawsuits by political opponents,” according to Reuters.

“Political vendettas are common in the Philippines and former leaders, minus their immunity of office, have been prosecuted and even jailed after changes in power,” the news agency noted.

“In truth, my reaction to the foolish statements of the ‘yellows’ [cowards] threatening me as if … it’s like, when I step down I have a case,” Duterte said during his speech on July 17.

“I will run for vice president, can you take it?” Duterte taunted.

“Duterte specifically mentioned former [Philippine] senator Antonio Trillanes IV and retired [Philippine] Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who, he claimed, have been threatening him with charges once his presidential term is over,” the Philippine Inquirer noted of Duterte’s national assembly speech.

Trillanes on July 1 threatened to “expose Duterte’s corruption” in a statement shared to Twitter without elaborating.

“We are used to that. Accusations will be made, but cannot be proven because they were fabricated. That has long been his modus,” Philippine Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, a former aide of Duterte’s, told reporters of Trillanes’s allegation at the time. Trillanes had similarly implied that Go was also responsible for unspecified instances of graft.

Like Go, Pacquiao has long been a political ally of Duterte. The relationship between the two has suffered in recent weeks, however, as Pacquiao alleged that elements of Duterte’s administration were responsible for corruption within the Philippine government. The two engaged in a public war of words that seemed to culminate in the PDP-Laban ousting Pacquiao from the party’s top seat on Saturday.

Political observers speculated Sen. Pacquiao’s election to the presidency of PDP-Laban in December 2020 served as the most convincing evidence yet that the wildly popular public figure was preparing to seek the Philippine presidency in 2022.

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