In his youth as a boxer he used drugs because he was “naive” and did not know the law. But now, in the middle of the race for the presidency of the Philippines, Manny pacquiao argues that criminals know that drugs are illegal and should be punished.
The famous retired champion and current senator of his country has been a prominent defender of the brutal fight against drug trafficking deployed by President Rodrigo Duterte, which has thousands of fatalities.
But in the run-up to 2022 electionsPacquiao has tried to distance himself from the outgoing leader, who is facing an international investigation for this repression, and defends that criminals should have “the opportunity to defend themselves.”
“We have to imprison those who use drugs and who sell drugs, is what the law says“, he explains, but the fight against drug trafficking must follow” a correct path. “
Before, I was naive, that’s why I took drugs (…) I did not know the law, “explains Pacquiao. Currently” people know that the law does not allow illegal drugs, “he argues.
The retired fighter caused a stupor in 2016 when he admitted to having taken in his teens marijuana and shabu, the local name for a cheap and highly addictive methamphetamine.
Praised for emerging from street poverty to become one of the greatest boxers of all time, Pacquiao has made the fight against drugs, corruption and poverty his banners to succeed Duterte.
“MAN OF DESTINY”
His victory cannot be ruled out in a politics obsessed with celebrities. But the fight will be tough.
A leaked poll in October placed Pacquiao in fourth place with just 9% of voter support. The son of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, with the same name, was the favorite with 47%.
Behind him were the vice president and main opposition figure Leni Robredo (18%) and the famous mayor of Manila and actor Francisco Domagoso (13%).
At his luxurious mansion in the capital, Pacquiao downplays this poll and insists that his “Destiny Man” campaign for the presidency will continue.
I don’t think about retiring, “he assures.” People will decide (…) I know that people want change in this country, they want to stop this corruption, they want a prosperous country and they want jobs“, Add.
Fans in this impoverished archipelago see the former boxer as living proof that success is possible for anyone who works hard, regardless of background.
But as a politician and a fervent evangelical Christian, Pacquiao generated controversy over his support for Duterte’s drug war and his intention to restore the death penalty.
Critics accuse him of having little intellectual base and of barely attending sessions of the Senate or Congress, where he served two legislatures, questioning his ability to manage a country of 110 million people.
“He may be popular with the masses, but so are other candidates,” says Ted Lerner, an American sports journalist in the Philippines, who predicts a return of the fighter to the ring.
A decades-long career in the ring brought Pacquiao fame and fortune, as well as the vices of alcohol, gambling and infidelity that nearly broke his marriage before he found faith.
Two months after hanging up his gloves, Pacquiao says that getting back in the ring is not an option, not even if he loses the election.
I am about to turn 43 years old, it is enough for me. Was over“says the father of five.
Pacquiao has participated in advertising campaigns for all kinds of products, from pizzas to cars, has hosted television shows and founded his own cryptocurrency, the “PAC Token.”
If his presidential bid fails, he wants to add the farmer line to his resume by planting fruit on a 20-hectare property in the southern province of Sarangani.
“It’s quiet there, I like that,” he says before opening his phone and playing a country music ballad.
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