Viewers of President Rodrigo Duterte's late night speeches to the nation are getting ringside seats to a brewing political rivalry, one that pits him against Sen. Manny Pacquiao.
The 76-year-old leader on June 28 threatened to expose Pacquiao as a "liar" unless he proves corruption in government. Earlier, Duterte said the senator's geopolitical knowledge, particularly on the West Philippine Sea, was lacking.
Pacquiao is president of PDP-Laban, chaired by Duterte. After the President's latest attack, a party official who is pushing for Duterte's candidacy for vice president, said the fighting senator was "burning bridges" with his criticism of the incumbent.
By falling out of Duterte's good graces, Pacquiao could lose a vehicle for a presidential run in 2022, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
“Kung hindi nila ma-resolve yan, halata mo magkakaroon ng division yung partido. Either one has to go out. It could be Manny Pacquiao kasi baguhan lang siya diyan sa partido na yan,” Casiple told reportr.
“Kung hindi papayag si Presidente at ang kanyang partido na PDP-Laban ay talagang out si Manny Pacquiao. Wala siya diyan,” he said.
Pacquiao the independent candidate?
Although he has not formally announced his plans for next year's national elections, Pacquiao is among the frontrunners, based on a Feb. 22 to March 3 Pulse Asia poll.
Before he lashed out on the senator, Duterte said Pacquiao was also among his “options” for a successor when he steps down from the presidency next June.
If Pacquiao loses the support of the President and PDP-Laban, he could still push through with his plans to run for president either as an opposition or independent candidate, according to Casiple.
“Kung tutuloy si Manny Pacquiao sa kanyang balak, opposition siya, [o] pwede ring mangyari ay tumakbo na lang siya on his own,” he said.
Running as an independent presidential candidate will not be easy, even for Pacquaio who has remained popular to the Filipino masses thanks to his stellar boxing career, Casiple said.
“Usually kasi kapag presidential position, you need a party, you need an organization sa likod mo,” he said.
Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, one of the convenors of the 1Sambayan opposition coalition, earlier said they were not inclined to include Pacquiao in their 2022 slate over his connections with Duterter and for supporting the war on drugs and death penalty.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who serves as chairman of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, said Pacquiao could join their party if he wanted to.
What are the next steps for Pacquiao?
If Pacquiao is really intent on running for president, Casiple said he could either go for it next year even without PDP-Laban’s backing or wait it out until the next presidential elections in 2028.
“Kapag hindi niya bitawan yung kanyang balak na tumakbo, obligado na siya na magsarili. Depende na ngayon yan kung ano ang naiwan sa kanyang kampo,” he said.
“Pero kung hayaan lang niya na ganyan, obligado siyang lumabas sa ganung ambisyon. Maghintay na anim na taon, medyo malayo-layo yan,” he said.
In the face of a possible ouster from his party, Casiple said Pacquiao should start gathering support from across the country if he is bent on running for president.
“Mahalaga yung meron kang critical mass na suporta. At hindi lang sa Mindanao yan, hanggang Luzon at Visayas yan. Hindi ko alam kung nagawa niya ang homework niya diyan kasi obligado siyang magbuo,” he added.