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While boxer-turned-politician Manny Pacquiao is one of the key candidates in this year's Philippine presidential election, he is still viewed as a relative novice on the political stage with only 15 years' experience.
So in picking a running mate for the vice-presidency, he went for one of the most experienced politicians in the country: House Deputy Speaker and former Manila mayor Lito Atienza.
With a political career spanning more than 50 years, it is no wonder that when Pacquiao was asked why he chose the 80-year-old as his VP candidate, he simply said, "I chose Congressman Atienza for his track record in public service."
Born in the San Andres Bukid district of Manila, Atienza's father Jose Sr was a distinguished public servant to three Philippine presidents, while his uncle Rigoberto was Chief of Staff of the Philippine Armed Forces in the 1960s.
Atienza graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in architecture, which would prove useful in rehabilitating and renewing the city of Manila during his tenure as mayor. He started his political career in 1968, and was given a job by then-Manila mayor Ramon Bagatsing as his chief information officer after the 1971 elections.
During the martial law years, Atienza was arrested twice for exposing human rights abuses under the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos. Despite his arrests, he was eventually elected as Member of Parliament in 1984, and when Marcos was ousted in 1986, he began serving under President Corazon Aquino as general manager of the National Housing Authority in 1988, promoting low-cost housing for teachers and policemen.
After serving as vice-mayor of Manila under mayor Alfredo Lim from 1992 to 1998, Atienza became Manila mayor when Lim decided to run for the presidency in 1998. He served as the city's 20th mayor for three terms until 2007, before becoming the Environment Secretary under President Gloria Arroyo.
Atienza became the representative of Buhay Party in the House of Representatives in 2013, and was named as one of the House of Representatives' Deputy Speakers in 2020.
Candidate's issues of focus
Like Pacquiao, Atienza is a staunch religious advocate – the representative of the pro-life Buhay party list opposes divorce and same-sex marriage. He has said that the pro-poor Pacquaio is the only candidate who has dedicated himself to helping the needy.
Unlike Pacquiao though, Atienza is against capital punishment. When President Rodrigo Duterte pushed for the reimposition of the death penalty, Atienza said he would favor a “harsher” form of lifelong incarceration and called the death penalty a "curse".
During his long political career, he has established social development projects focused on improving the welfare of senior citizens and of children. As Manila mayor, he successfully renewed most of the city's decaying public facilities, but also faced controversy when he ordered the demolition of historical architecture.
Atienza has vowed not to let himself be just a "spare tire" of the President and wants to be a "super aide" of Pacquiao.
“I don’t want to hold a Cabinet portfolio. I just want to help (Pacquiao) on a day-to-day basis so you would always have an aide,” he said, adding that he would decline to become vice-president for any other presidential candidate other than the former boxer.
However, Atienza's election campaign got off on the wrong foot, literally. He recently suffered a knee sprain and had to undergo surgery, ruling him physically out of the campaigning trail. Pacquiao has already brought up the possibility of adopting Tito Sotto as his running mate, should Atienza back out.
Personal and family background
Atienza is married to Evalina Ilagan, and they have six children, including TV host Kim Atienza, athlete-turned-newscaster Ali Atienza, and former third district councillor Maile Atienza.
Outside of his political career, he has hosted the Philippine television drama romance anthology, Maynila, from 1998 until its hiatus in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He occasionally appeared in cameo roles, giving advice to the characters in the drama.
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