Speaking to CNN in an interview on November 11, the presidential candidate said he planned to investigate some members of the outgoing administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“All those corrupt officials should be jailed,” he said. “That is the only way we can have economic growth in our country, because that is the cancer of this country, the obstacle to development.”
Pacquiao hopes to succeed Duterte when the Philippines goes to the polls on May 9, 2022, and the official campaign is not scheduled to begin until February.
But the race is already heating up.
Pacquiao’s agenda includes trying to recover some of the “stolen wealth” from the Marcos family, which was exiled for more than five years after a 1986 revolution.
“I’m not scared,” Pacquiao said. “This is my fight to develop our country, to imprison those who are continually robbing the Philippines of its wealth. I want them to imprison them.”
An open field
Duterte-Carpio, 43, will run for vice president, elected separately from the president, on the same list as Marcos Jr., consolidating an alliance between the two powerful families.
Among the other leading candidates for the top job are Duterte’s aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go; the vice president and critic of Duterte, Leni Robredo; and the mayor of Manila, Isko Moreno, a former actor.
According to Richard Heydarian, associate professor of politics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, dynasties and celebrities have dominated the country’s politics since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.
“For a time, celebrities were presented as some kind of self-made alternatives to political dynasties,” he said. “However, just because you’re a celebrity doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”
But Pacquiao has a fighting chance.
The wide field of candidates, combined with the Philippine electoral system, could work to the benefit of the former boxer, Heydarian said.
“Let’s not forget that in the Philippines we do not have a second round election,” he said. “All you have to do to become president is win more votes than everyone else.”
In 2016, Duterte did just that: he won the presidency with just over 39% of the vote.
Despite criticism that he prioritized his boxing career over his role in Congress, Pacquiao’s political star has risen in the past five years under Duterte.
But relations between the two men have shaken in recent months.
Signs of a breakdown in the ruling PDP-Laban party began in March when the former boxer criticized Duterte’s stance on a maritime dispute with China and accused government agencies of corruption.
“Filipinos are dismayed with the way the people in charge of the Covid response handled the pandemic,” said Pacquiao. “We are the laughingstock in terms of the Covid response, as well as the corruption in the government.”
The presidential race has been repeatedly overshadowed by the controversial headline, who is currently facing an International Criminal Court investigation into his “war on drugs,” in which police say more than 6,600 people were killed. The government has said it will not cooperate with an international investigation because the Philippines has a functioning justice system.
According to Heydarian, the outgoing president “needs a fortress, because most likely the International Criminal Court will go ahead with a full-scale investigation. And we may even see arrest warrants for some of the top officials in the Philippines.”
Pacquiao said he would investigate the Duterte government for its role in the killings.
“I will continue the war on drugs in the right way,” said Pacquiao. “It is not necessary to kill them in the streets, there is a due process, (giving them) the opportunity to defend themselves to prove that they are innocent.”
He sold sweets and cigarettes on the streets as a child to support his brothers and single mother and began his boxing career fighting for a few pesos in unauthorized matches.
The only boxer to win world titles in eight different weight divisions, Pacquiao retired from boxing this year after a brilliant 26-year career.
Although his non-traditional career path has put off many in the middle class, Pacquiao is very popular with poor Filipinos, who are inspired by his story from poverty to wealth, according to Heydarian of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
“Pacquiao has 100% name recognition, Pacquiao has a lot of money, he has (a) network across the country and he’s a very charismatic guy,” Heydarian said. “He also comes from a very poor background (and) his life story is extremely inspiring as well.”
Pacquiao said it is his unusual path, and his self-made success, that sets him apart from other candidates.
“I am not a traditional politician,” Pacquiao said. “I am a very forward and direct person, I do not hesitate to say what is correct.
“I want to give Filipinos a good life, a good future, that’s my goal, that’s why I entered politics.”
Additional reporting from Reuters and CNN’s Ben Westcott.