MANILA — "Anything is possible" in politics, Malacañang said on Tuesday, as it addressed an apparent rift between once close allies and party mates President Rodrigo Duterte and Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
Duterte on Monday challenged Pacquiao to back up his claim that the government is "three times" more corrupt than previous administrations. The President said he would expose the senator as a liar "daily", if the latter fails to name corrupt officials.
"I think it’s rather obvious that the relationship between the President and Sen. Pacquiao is not cordial as it was," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
He said Pacquiao was among next year's potential candidates for president who could’ve had Duterte’s backing.
"Pero hindi na ata nakahintay si Sen. Pacquiao," Roque said in a press briefing.
(But it seems Sen. Pacquiao could not wait.)
Asked if this meant that Pacquiao is now out of the running as among Duterte's anointed bet, Roque said, "Hindi naman po definitely because in the realm of politics… anything is possible. But for now, mainit po."
(Not definitely because in the realm of politics, anything is possible. But for now, the issue is hot.)
Duterte's Monday comments were the latest chapter in a surprise war of words between him and Pacquiao, who is seen as being among his strongest backers and a possible successor when his 6-year term expires June next year.
Using an expletive in his strongest language yet against Pacquiao, Duterte said if he did not reveal corruption, he would be "playing politics" and pledged to take action against any erring officials.
It was not immediately clear what officials he was urging Pacquiao to expose, or why. Pacquiao has not been publicly speaking about any allegations of high-level corruption in recent days.
Pacquiao is the acting president of Duterte's political party, the PDP-Laban.
"The President realizes that the PDP naman po ay talagang halos wala nang miyembro n'yan bago siya pumunta d'yan," Roque said, when asked if Duterte wanted Pacquiao out of the party's leadership.
"At kinikilala naman po niya (Duterte) na ang PDP ay partido ng mga Pimentel."
(The President realizes that the PDP almost had no members before he went there. And he also recognizes that the PDP is really the party of the Pimentels.)
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, executive vice-chairman and former president of PDP-Laban, earlier this June called Pacquiao the "president that we need."
Pacquiao, 42, has long been among Duterte's strongest supporters, backing his bloody war on drugs and bid to re-introduce the death penalty. The boxing champ-turned-senator has yet to announce his presidential bid.
Early this month, Duterte criticized Pacquiao's "shallow" foreign policy knowledge, after the senator said he found the leader's stand on the South China Sea as "lacking" and "disheartening".
Duterte remains popular in the country. Political allies are urging him to run as vice president when his term ends. His daughter - a long term aide - is also seen among his possible successors.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters