Manila: Philippines boxing legend and politician Manny Pacquiao, known as Pacman, is still acting coy about his rumoured political ambitions. Like all politicians, Pacquiao has opted to keep his cards close to his chest apparently to avoid telegraphing his moves to potential rivals.
Pacquiao said last week that running for president in 2022 is far from his mind, adding that he would rather focus on his job as a lawmaker than seeking the presidency, reports Xinhua.
However, Pacquiao told reporters that his options remain open, dropping a strong hint that joining the next presidential race is not as farfetched as it may seem.
A born-again Christian, Pacquiao said the presidency is destiny, a will of God. "I am not closing doors. God will deliver you the presidency if that is his will," the 37-year-old neophyte senator said.
"It`s far from my mind. I`d like to focus on my legislative work for now," Pacuiao told reporters.
The senator who won a seat for the first time in the Philippine senate in the May 2016 national election said he is beginning to "enjoy" his work as a senator.
Last week, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte raised the Filipino sensation`s hands and quipped, "he`s for president", piquing the media`s curiosity about Pacquiao`s potential political plans.
Pacquiao paid a courtesy call on Duterte at the Malacanang presidential palace after his victory over American Jessie Vargas in Las Vegas on Nov. 6. On congratulating Pacquiao, Duterte said, "For me, it`s do or die for Pacquaio."
Duterte and Pacquiao are political allies. Both hail from Mindanao island in the southern Philippines and are advocates of the war on illegal drugs and bringing back the death penalty.
Pacquiao said he believes that Duterte`s presidency will bring change and hope to the country, and he would like to help bring about that change.
"That`s my commitment. I am glad that the president and I have the same advocacies. I`m sure that within six years there will be a lot of changes in our country," Pacquiao added.
Philippines presidents serve a single six-year term and are barred from seeking re-election. Duterte`s term ends in 2022.
This is not the first time that Pacquiao has talked about his presidential ambitions. In 2013, Pacquiao`s American promoter, Bob Arum, said the boxer-turned-politician has plans to run for the senate in 2016 "and then in 2022 or maybe later he`ll run for president."
Pacquiao will be qualified to run for president in the 2022 elections.
Pacquiao`s foray into the political arena was not easy. He lost his first bid for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2007. Three years later, he won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010, a position he held until 2016.
But many were not impressed by his political performance. Pacquiao, who literally punched his way out of poverty, is much admired and loved as a boxer, rather than as a politician.
Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, a sociologist and the director of the Development Studies at the Ateneo de Manila University, wrote in Rappler, a Philippines-based social news network, in May, about Pacquiao`s qualifications as a legislator.
"Hands down, he enjoys a sterling reputation as a boxing champion and it might take some time for any Filipinos to match his achievements. But like his singing and acting, his performance as (a member of the House of Representatives) has been rather off-key," Cornelio said.
"He became notorious for his perennial absence, for example. Attendance, if only to meet the quorum, matters in the House of Representatives. If Congress were like any typical class, he would have been a dropout long ago."
"In 2012, in a rare moment when he took the podium, he rejects the RH Bill (Reproductive Health) using religious reasoning that conveniently evaded the nuances of the proposed law. His religious convictions, while commendable at times especially in relation to his conversions, have also become a convenient excuse for his irresponsible and ill-informed views about the LGBT (community)."
Pacquiao drew flak at the start of the campaign in May when he compared lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to animals.
"Overall," Cornelio said, "without any solid legislative accomplishment, his performance in Congress has been characterised as underachieving. Whoever said that was simply being polite."
However, Cornelio said Pacquiao has potential, saying that he "brings with him a unique experience that inspires the rest of the population".
Sincerity and empathy for the common man are not lacking in Pacquiao. But his political naïveté, partly due to the fact that he is not highly educated and has a lack of political skills, is self-evident.
In the Philippines, where personalities, not issues, usually dominate political campaigns, Pacquiao might just win the presidency one day.