Filipino boxing youth and politician Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao boxing in Las Vegas (9 April 2016)Image copyright
All Sport

Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao has left the ring for the political fight in the Philippines. Already a congressman, he is running for a senate seat in next week’s elections.

Heather Chen, the BBC’s social media producer in Asia, is in the capital, Manila and reporting daily on Snapchat. She went to a boxing gym to see how fellow fighters and Filipino youth see his ambition.

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Goh Wei Choon and Jiahui Wee

As you travel around Manila, election candidates are everywhere. Manny Pacquiao’s image is no exception. I saw a photo from his boxing days covering a traditional cycle trishaw and its rider told me “Pacman will save us”, before climbing on and pedalling off.

Pacquiao can rely on his fame and success to ensure adulation, but at one gym where Filipino boxers hang out, their champion’s political ambition was up for debate.

“Whenever a Manny Pacquiao fight is on, the streets empty out and crime rate is zero because the entire nation drops everything to cheer him on.”

Those were the words of Richard Monterey, an IT worker from Quezon City, on the political ambitions of Manny Pacquiao.

The first person I met at the gym was Mary Ann, who works on reception. She said she believed in the Sarangani politician. “I like him very much. He’s a champion and he can fight for the Philippines in any kind of ring.”

She introduced me to boxing coach and former champion Edel, enthusiastically working out his punches on a leather bag.

“Pacman is a world champion,” he said, pointing to a wall of old victory photographs on the wall. “But I don’t think that translates to politics in the Philippines, it’s too complicated.”

Some expressed concern about Mr Pacquiao’s ability to make the transition towards the bigger stage: vice-president and one day, Philippine president – a position he has expressed interest in. Many wonder how he will juggle his political style with very serious and complex foreign policy issues, such as the Philippines relationship with China.

“Boxing and politics just don’t mix,” said Louie, an accountant and a student. “Manny Pacquiao has to realise what he brings to the ring isn’t the same as leading a country.”

Martial arts student Patrick Malsi shared similar sentiments about the former world champion. “Boxing doesn’t translate to politics and it shouldn’t. Filipinos who support him have to think about his political abilities in the long run.”

The 29-year-old graphic designer also highlighted the “insensitivity” of the boxer, who made headlines in February after he said homosexuals were “worse than animals”.

“I love him as a boxer but is that how we’d want a president of the Philippines to behave? It reflects badly on our society, not a good move.”

“Filipinos love Manny: he brings our country pride and glory,” said Julie Francisco, another student who was wrapping her hands in preparation for training.

“He takes down big names, but can he tackle corruption? That’s the real question at hand.”

Her coach held up his rubber wristbands that indicated his choices for president and vice-president: Rodrigo Duterte and Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos.

“Vote for Pacquiao? Let’s see if he gets there first,” he whispered.

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