MANILA – Sen. Manny Pacquiao on Thursday said he was not attacking President Rodrigo Duterte but is instead supporting the latter's anti-corruption campaign when he spoke of corrupt practices in government.
Pacquiao, a long-time administration ally, made the statement as he found himself in a precarious position in recent days, including criticism from a fellow stalwart in ruling party PDP-Laban and a retort from the president himself.
Duterte earlier this week challenged Pacquiao to list government offices and employees involved in corrupt practices to prove his claim that the administration was “three times” more corrupt than previous administrations.
Pacquiao said he has pieces of evidence of corruption from different agencies, which he would submit to the chief executive.
"I'm not attacking the President. Baka mali lang 'yung perception nila. But I’m hinting to the President, kasi ang advocacy niya, kung ang advocacy ay against corruption, katulong ako," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(I'm not attacking the President. Maybe their perception is just wrong. But I’m hinting to the President because if his advocacy is against corruption, I'm helping him.)
"May mga tao lang siguro nagtiwala sa akin. Binibigay sa'kin ang ebidensiya, pinagkakatiwala sa akin. This is my opportunity to work with the President."
(Some people trusted me and gave me evidence.)
Among agencies that Pacquiao alleged of corruption was the Department of Health. The senator said he has "no problem" in meeting with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to discuss his claims, which Duque had denounced.
"Wala naman problema, basta kung ano ang natanggap natin ebidensiya, black and white 'yan, 'yun siguro ang pagbabasehan natin," he said.
(There's no problem, I will base it on the black and white evidence I received.)
Pacquiao has been seen as among Duterte's strongest backers and a possible successor when the latter's 6-year term expires next June.
A rift in ruling party PDP-Laban, in which Duterte and Pacquiao serve as officers, began when the senator was elected acting president without Duterte's knowledge, said its vice chairman Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.
Pacquiao had urged party members to ignore a meeting Cusi had organized in Cebu last May. That meeting ended with members encouraging Duterte to run for vice president in 2022.
In March, the boxing champ-turned-senator chided PDP-Laban members who wanted Duterte to run as vice president, following suggestions that his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio should gun for the presidency.
Duterte on Monday dared Pacquiao to back up his claim that the government is 3 times more corrupt than previous administrations. If the senator fails to name corrupt agencies or officials, Duterte said he would expose Pacquiao as a liar.
Pacquiao said he accepted Duterte's challenge, but said it was disheartening that they were fighting over the issue of corruption.
"May mga naging pagkakamali ako sa buhay na aking itinuwid at itinama nguni’t dalawang bagay ang kaya kong panghawakan. Hindi ako tiwali at hindi ako sinungaling," Pacquiao said in a statement on Tuesday.
(I had mistakes in life that I corrected, but I can hold on to two things. I am not corrupt and a liar.)
The Department of Health in June had disclosed pandemic expenses to the Senate. Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque on Wednesday said Pacquiao might have been "absent" or "preoccupied" with something else then.
"Patuloy pong hinihintay ni Presidente ‘yong mga sinasabi niyang korap na ahensya," Roque said, hours after the senator's TeleRadyo interview.
(The President is still waiting for his information on allegedly corrupt agencies.)
Asked what could be motivating Pacquiao's allegations, he said "Pulitika po ‘yan."
"Alam naman nating lahat, gustong tumakbong Presidente ni Senator Pacquiao. Sa akin po, hindi tamang stratehiya ‘yan kasi napakatagal naman pong nagsama ni Senator Pacquiao at ni Presidente," said Roque.
"Sa ngayon po, wala naman pang pinapangalanan tayo ang Presidente na ieendorso niya… sa susunod na halalan," he added.
(We all know that Senator Pacquiao wants to run for President. To me, that is not the right strategy because Senator Pacquiao and the President have long been allies. The President has not yet named anyone that he will endorse in the elections.)
Early last 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 Philippines, 5 years after he won the presidency campaigning on a promise to fight corruption, crime, and illegal drugs.
But his administration has been dogged by scandals and allegations of graft and cover-ups in state agencies ranging from prisons, the state insurer, immigration, airports and customs, to police and the drugs enforcement agency, few of which led to convictions or high-profile resignations.
The Philippines fell 14 notches to 113th spot among 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index in 2019. Last year, the country slipped to more spots to 115th.
Duterte is not eligible for re-election, but fulfilling his campaign pledge on corruption could help the chances of his chosen successor in the 2022 elections.
– With a report from Reuters