On Thursday, boxing great Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao stood before a cheering crowd and flashing cameras, his arm hoisted above his head. The “people’s champion” was a winner once again.
Only this time, he hadn’t won a boxing title, but a Senate seat in his home country of the Philippines. The political victory brings the 37-year-old, who had previously served in the Philippines’ House of Representatives, ever closer to an eventual shot at the presidency.
“The Filipino slugger garnered more than 16 million votes, landing 7th among 12 new members of the Senate, a traditional springboard to the presidency,” The Associated Press reports, adding that Pacquiao demurred when asked about his future political ambitions.
Judging by his popularity in his country, the presidency could be well within his reach.
“In the Philippines, I would say Pacquiao is like Elvis meets Justin Bieber, meets Michael Jordan, meets Bill Clinton,” Ryan Songalia, a N.Y.-based Filipino journalist, told NPR in 2011.
By the time of the next presidential election, in 2022, Pacquiao will be old enough to run for the nation’s highest office. (Candidates must be at least 40.) He served as a representative for the southern Sarangani province starting in 2010, saying he wanted to help improve the lives of poor people in his country.
“In my province — Sarangani province — the population is more than half-a-million and we don’t have a hospital … imagine that,” Pacquiao told NPR in 2011.
He was roundly criticized, however, for prioritizing his boxing career over his legislative duties. Last year, the Chicago Tribune reported: “Congressional records show that during his first term in 2010-2013, Pacquiao was ‘actually present’ for 98 out of 168 session days, and only for four days [in 2014].”
So when the boxer mentioned his possible participation in this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio during the proclamation ceremony for his Senate win, he said it would depend on the will of the people.
“I need to ask if the Filipino people will allow me to compete in the Olympics, Pacquiao said, according to a video from The Guardian, though he announced earlier this year that he was retired. “I need to study it first, and we are seeking the approval of the Filipino people.”
Pacquiao also faced criticism earlier this year as well when he said that people in same-sex relationships are “worse than animals.” While he apologized for the comparison, he emphasized that he still opposed same-sex marriage. Pacquiao, who is a born-again Christian, told LGBT people that he was “praying for [them].”
However, as this superb Guardian profile on Pacquiao says, he “once was not so righteous.” It says:
“He once was an all-night hound dog, taking his pleasure where he pleased, ignoring all advice to respect the sanctity of his marriage vows and determined to squeeze as much fun from life as was available to someone who was born into grinding poverty. Those were his hardcore inclinations until only a few years ago.”
After Pacquiao said he “heard the voice of God,” he changed his ways, dedicating himself to his family, boxing and, now, politics. And the Christian politician also won the endorsement of Rodrigo Duterte, the president-elect of the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Duterte made headlines earlier this year when he “apparently joked about a rape and murder in 1989, commenting that the victim was beautiful and as mayor he ‘should have been first’ when men took turns raping her,” as the Two-Way reported.
“He said his statement was not making fun of rape, but he did not retract it or apologize for it.
” ‘It was said in anger; I was not joking,’ he said by way of clarification, according to the AP. ‘I said, “This one, she’s beautiful, like an actress, son of a bitch they beat me to her. Kill them all.” ‘ ”
Pacquiao has also expressed support for Duterte. According to the AP, he said he would support Duterte’s tough-on-crime policies. In the past, human rights groups have accused the president-elect “of permitting or encouraging death squads to conduct extrajudicial killings of hundreds of perceived petty criminals,” the Two-Way reported.