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Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao has conquered the world of boxing many times over, winning the hearts of millions of his countrymen with his awesome skill and indefatigable spirit.
Now, the boxing legend will be hoping to woo his fellow Filipinos again – this time via his political capabilities as a candidate in this year's presidential election.
The 42-year-old is a relative novice on the political stage, having started his career as a congressman only in 2007. Yet, his extraordinary sporting achievements despite his humble background have already made him a folk hero among the electorate.
His boxing exploits are the stuff of legend among the global Filipino community, not just because of the sporting heights which he had scaled, but also because of the depths he had to climb to taste such sweet success.
However, despite his policies favoring the poor, Pacquiao has struggled so far in the presidential election race, consistently lagging behind Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr and Leni Robredo in opinion polls.
His camp has even had to shoot down "below the belt" rumours that he will back out of the presidential race to boost the prospects of Robredo overtaking front-runner Marcos.
True to his boxing background, the born-again Christian has insisted that he does not back out of fights, but added he is willing to abandon his presidential bid if he receives a sign from God.
Born and raised in Mindanao in southern Philippines, Pacquiao dropped out of high school and moved north to Manila at age 14 to strike out a boxing career. In between his training, he lived on the streets and worked as a construction worker, barely earning enough to send money to his mother.
Yet he fought ferociously, turning professional at age 16 and got better and better – to the point that he became the only boxer in the world to become world champion in eight different weight divisions by the time he retired in 2021. He is the only boxer to have held world titles in four different decades – from the 1990s to 2020s.
During his major bouts, entire cities in the Philippines stopped to watch him fight on pay-per-view TV. Had Pacquiao done nothing else for the rest of his life, he would still be forever revered by his countrymen as a sporting icon and an inspiration for those dreaming of rising out of poverty.
Yet, he has always harbored political ambitions as a way to give back and help the poor. These sentiments grew stronger when he became an evangelical Christian in 2012, and finally culminated in his presidential bid after stints as a congressman and senator in the past decade.
He is affiliated with the PDP-Laban, the same political party as incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, but registered his candidacy on 1 October under the Cebu-based party PROMDI, following a factional split within PDP-Laban.
Candidate's issues of focus
It comes as no surprise that Pacquiao is touting a pro-poor platform for the election, promising 1.9 million houses for poor Filipino families.
"Pacquiao can claim an ability to relate to the masses that no other candidates can match. He can also dominate a news cycle with his boxing fame," Ryan Songalia, a sports journalist who has covered Pacquiao's career in boxing and politics, told German international broadcaster DW.
While he has also taken social liberal stances in the past, such as supporting wage increases, he remains politically conservative at heart, supporting the return of the death penalty and – most controversially – being a strong opponent against same-sex marriages.
Pacquiao has also stated that his priority if elected as president is to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic so that the government can drive the economy to recovery.
Taking a strong stance against corruption, Pacquiao warned that guilty officials will be "dragged to prison" should he be elected. It is no surprise then that he has vowed to help recover billions of dollars of wealth missing since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship – an indirect swipe at rival candidate Marcos, son of the late dictator.
"The reason why our country is poor is because of thieves in government and that is why we need to eradicate corruption," he said during his campaign trail.
Analysts predict that if Pacquiao can bring in votes from his home province of Mindanao as well as the Visayas central region, it will give him a strong regional bloc advantage and a clear chance at the presidency.
However, others feel that it may take more than just a pro-poor platform for Pacquiao to win the election, and he has to do more to connect to voters of other backgrounds to secure enough votes.
Indeed, during a presidential forum held in early February, as Pacquiao presented his "22 rounds agenda" promising plenty of improvements to the "health of the nation", he struggled to address how exactly he plans to fund these programs.
Another major setback in his presidential bid is the continued absence of his vice-presidential running partner Lito Atienza due to a leg injury. Pacquiao has not discounted the possibility of aligning with Vicente "Tito" Sotto III - the running mate of presidential aspirant Panfilo Lacson - should Atienza decide to quit the race.
Personal and family background
Pacquiao married former politician Jinkee Jamora in 1999, and they have five children. His eldest son Emmanuel Jr dabbles in boxing, modeling and acting; second son Michael is a rapper; while daughter Queenie is a popular YouTube vlogger.
As he had dropped out of high school to pursue his boxing career, Pacquiao tried to return to academia in order to earn his credentials upon entering politics. In 2010, he completed a 10-day crash course on development legislation and governance. And in 2019, he finally earned his bachelor's degree in political science after graduating from the University of Makati.
Besides boxing and politics, Pacquiao has also tried to launch his acting and music careers. He has starred in a handful of films since 2005, although none of them were critically-acclaimed or box-office hits.
He has also released three music albums between 2006 and 2015. In 2011, he recorded a cover version of Dan Hill's ballad "Sometimes When We Touch" which somehow reached No.19 in the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart, making him one of the few Southeast Asians to hit the US Billboard chart.
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