It started on May 3 when Senator Manny Pacquiao, a known ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, said that he finds Duterte’s recent stance lacking on reported Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea.
“Sa akin, nakukulangan ako, nakukulangan ako kumpara doon sa bago pa siya tumakbo, nage-eleksyon pa lang. Dapat ipatuloy niya yun para magkaroon din naman tayo ng respeto [galing sa China],” Pacquiao told reporters in an online interview.
(For me, I find it lacking. I find it lacking compared to how he was before he ran for President. He should have continued that so that we get some respect.)
“Nakakapanghina dahil iba kasi yan doon sa simula (It’s discouraging because he was different back then),” the well-known boxer-turned-politician said.
Pacquiao was sought for comment on Duterte’s pronouncement that the Philippines owes a debt of gratitude to China over its donated COVID-19 vaccines.
“For the record, we do not want war with China. China is a good friend. We owed it a big debt of gratitude, among others for the vaccines [it has donated to us],” Duterte said, speaking partly in Filipino, in a pre-recorded briefing last April 28.
Pacquiao recalled that prior to his presidential win, Duterte said he would ride a jet ski going to the Spratly Islands and other disputed areas and plant the Philippine flag there.
“Narinig natin bago mag-election, sa pangangampanya, nung sinabi niya na mag-jet ski siya, dala yung watawat ng Pilipinas doon, e siyempre, kahit ako sa puso ko, ito na yung iboboto ko dahil ito yung dapat na presidente, kailangan natin, na pinaglalaban yung bansa natin,” Pacquiao went on.
(We heard what he said before the elections as he was campaigning that he was going to ride a jet ski carrying the Philippine flag to the Spratlys, so of course I felt it in my heart to vote for him because that’s the kind of president that we need; someone who will fight for our country.)
“Tapos ito na, ito na yung crucial na pangyayari ngayon (Then this crucial event happened),” he added.
Duterte earned widespread criticism for his stance on the matter.
However, Malacañang defended the President’s remarks, saying his admission that he owed a great debt to China does not mean that he is giving up the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippines Sea.
Reacting to Pacquiao’s comments, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo on May 5 advised Pacquiao to stop criticizing Duterte.
During his commentary show “Counterpoint,” Panelo told Pacquiao that finding fault with Duterte would not work to his advantage.
Panelo gave the advice amid Pacquiao’s supposed plan to run for president in 2022.
“Ang sinasabi, tatakbo siyang presidente (There’s a rumor that he would run for president),” he said. “Ang payo ko sa’yo Senador Manny Pacquio eh huwag ka nang sumali diyan sa mga kasama mong senador na wala nang nakitang maganda kasi bumabanat ka (My advice to you, Senator Manny Pacquiao, do not join other senators who always criticize [Duterte].) I’m saying this because you are criticizing him).”
Panelo said it is not yet time for Pacquiao to seek the highest post in the country.
“Senator Manny, gaya nang sinabi ko sa inyo, this is not your time (Senator Manny, I am telling you, this is not your time),” he said.
Panelo told Pacquiao that he would never lose his popularity.
“‘Yung sinasabi mo na ‘pag hindi ka tumakbo, mawawala na yung kasikatan mo, hindi totoo ‘yun. Palagi ka ng sikat. Legend ka nga eh (It’s not true that you will lose your popularity if you do not tun. That’s not true. You are always popular. You are even a legend),” he said.
Panelo said Duterte, his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, and his former long-time aide Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go are the only personalities that will stand out in the 2022 national elections.
“Ito ang panahon ni Mayor Sara o ni Senador Bong Go at ni Presidente Duterte pa rin. Hindi pa ninyo panahon. Meron pa sigurong darating na panahon (It is the time of Mayor Sara, Senator Bong Go, and President Duterte. It is not yet the time of others. You have to wait for your turn),” he said.
Sara Duterte-Carpio is the top pick among the preferred presidential candidates in the 2022 national and local elections, based on the February 22 to March 3, 2021 pre-election poll conducted by Pulse Asia.
Pacquiao secured the fourth spot, while Go ranked sixth in the Pulse Asia survey.
Malacanang has denied that there was a growing rift between Duterte and Pacquiao ahead of the May 2022 elections.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there is no falling out between Pacquiao and Duterte.
Roque said Pacquiao may have criticized Duterte for his stance against China regarding the West Philippine Sea but there was “no falling out” between the two officials.
Pacquiao is the acting president of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), the political party that Duterte heads.
“I don’t think there is a falling out,” Roque told reporters when asked if there is a growing rift between the two PDP-Laban stalwarts.
“Hanggang ngayon po, nananatiling napakalaking fan ni Senator Pacquiao ang ating Presidente sa larangan ng palakasan lalo na sa larangan ng boxing. Hanggang doon na lang po tayo (Until now, the President remains to be a huge fan of Senator Pacquiao in terms of strength and in the field of boxing. Let’s leave it at that),” he added.
A PDP-Laban official has insisted that Pacquiao was not criticizing Duterte on the West Philippine Sea issue.
PDP-Laban executive director Ronwald Munsayac said on May 12 that party members who believe that Pacquiao was overly critical of Duterte, who serves as chairman of the party, should have followed internal mechanisms instead of making public declarations or issuing press releases.
“If you look at the said interview, you will realize that Senator Pacquaio was even defending the President when he said that people should not take the President’s ‘jetski statement’ literally. Senator Pacquaio said nothing to criticize President Duterte and in fact expressed his respect and admiration for what the President had stated in his ‘jetski’ bravado, by saying ‘ito, ‘yun gusto ko.’,” he explained.
“Then, even as he said ‘nakukulangan ako… kumpara sa dati.’ referring to the President’s stance now versus the President’s stance before on the same subject, Senator Pacquiao continued to say quickly, ‘sana ibalik niya ‘yung dati para…’,” he added.
Munsayac was reacting to the action of the PDP-Laban-Bulacan provincial chapter, which issued a statement, sending their strong disapproval of Pacquiao’s remarks that he found Duterte’s response to the West Philippine Sea issue ‘lacking’.
“While the party leadership under Sen. Pacquaio is cognizant of the various sentiments of our members, there is a process by which we must all adhere before issuing public pronouncements that are detrimental to the interest of the party and its general membership,” Munsayac pointed out.
Munsayac said that the best move that the PDP-Laban-Bulacan chapter should have done was to consult the matter with him or Pacquiao.
“Any party member who has no other agenda but to uphold the integrity of the party could have easily communicated with me or to Senator Pacquiao so that we could have happily provided you with the full video of his interview where you claim that he criticized the president,” he said.
Duterte has repeatedly asserted that the Philippines would not go to war with China over the conflict in the disputed waters.
Duterte even said the Philippines owed a “debt of gratitude” to China because of its assistance to the country, including the vaccines it donated.
“China, let it be known, is a good friend and we do not want trouble with them, especially war. But there are things which are not really subject to a compromise,” he has said.