It’s no secret that Manny Pacquiao, one of the Philippines’ greatest boxers and national heroes, could be running for the presidency in May next year, with the country going to the polls in a four-way race. And just what would he do if he were to emerge victorious? “I’d jail certain people,” Pacquiao said at a press conference recently. “I won’t name them, but I will certainly jail them.” And of course, he added that “I believe it would be more fitting to me for a lot of good things to happen in the country and no one to feel bad.”
Pacquiao’s comments, while intended to soften his image and position himself as a reformer, came as the nation is still reeling from the brutal killing of gay men in a northern town and the discovery of the bodies of at least 18 men at a dump site. The killings came two weeks after a mother and her adult son were found dead inside a safe house. Reports vary as to the killings, but from what the The Associated Press has reported, each death appears to have been committed by a masked gunman with a hunting knife who ransacked the homes of the victims in search of valuables. Also known as vigilantes, many Filipino “men of the grass” are responsible for crimes against minorities including poor LGBT people and prisoners in overcrowded jails.
Dressed in a blue blazer and white shirt and black bow tie, Pacquiao is one of the wealthiest men in the Philippines, according to Forbes. His net worth is estimated to be over $500 million. His comments were met with surprise and anger, including among some of his admirers who see him as a moral icon. Social media lit up with commentary about his seeming call for racial profiling.
Whoever voted for @mannypacquiao to be head of state should be ashamed of themselves! He has no respect for #gaymen. Anyone who voted for him has no right to even be in a place of power! — Smuggler Maguy Yanguel (@SmugglerMaroon) June 3, 2019
Manny Pacquiao loves the country. He loves the country when it’s nice. Then it is more interested in stacking top local businessmen in top positions. This is the time of leaders who listen. This is the time of the strong people of The Philippines who would want to work towards a change https://t.co/yRE6tNK2hk — Wilcer Nangtan (@WilcerNangtan_) June 4, 2019
Pacquiao recently gained control of his political party — known as the Aquino Group — after boxing great and senator Jesse Robredo was denied a seat in the legislature last year. Robredo was barred from the legislature by a controversial vote to deny her a seat by virtue of her gender. She has accused the ruling party of barring her so that she can be forced out.
The defeated Robredo, who is also gay, reacted to Pacquiao’s comments in a fiery, controversial video on Facebook. “Some people said, what he said is a recipe for turning the country into a fascist state, and that a fascist state will take away your freedom to think, say and believe,” she said. “Those of you who, in his own words, say you don’t mind if he does jail his political adversaries, I leave it to you to answer whether a fascist state has more freedom for its citizens than the freedom you have now.”
The Philippines’ electoral commission is still carrying out a recount in Robredo’s seat after questions were raised over the initial results. According to reports, the results of the recount are expected to be released in June.