Government News Analysis

Pugilist Pacman’s political punch

The Filipino nation is celebrating today. It’s Golden Boy, boxer/senator, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, has just brought home another belt, another world title, lifting the country’s spirits once more. And the pride is justified; he may have been 10 years older than his opponent, World Boxing Organisation welterweight champion, Jesse Vargas, and had a four inch shorter reach, but his speed was never lacking, nor was the power of his punch. Result, by a unanimous decision of the judges: Pacman romped it.

What’s more remarkable is that throughout the gruelling preparation he had to undergo for this fight, he still took care of his day job. The 16,050,546 voters who sent him to the upper house of Congress in the May election can rest assured – he’s certainly been putting the hours in there. Throughout his strict training regimen in the build-up to the Las Vegas meet, he never missed a single session in the Philippine Senate. And that’s remarkable; not every senator could claim that – and they didn’t have to go 12 rounds with Vargas on top of it.

Pacquiao’s work rate in the Senate is impressive – he sits on 15 separate committees and is associated with 17 pieces of legislation, three of which he co-authored. And much of that’s since he assumed office on 30 June – a span of less than 19 weeks.

Here’s a closer look at that work load. He chairs two Senate committees, Public Works, and Sport, is Vice Chairman of Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement, and sits on the following: Agriculture, Blue Ribbon, Civil Services, Commission on Appointments, Education, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Ethics, Labor and Employment, National Defense, Public Services, Tourism.

The legislation he’s associated with is similarly wide ranging, though the one closest to his heart is undoubtedly the Philippine Boxer’s Welfare Act which he filed on his first day in the Senate. This bill seeks to create a Boxing Commission with powers to promote and strengthen the country’s international standing in the sport, as well as providing funding and welfare services for Filipino boxers. This bill is now pending in committee but local fighters know that they’ve got the one man in their corner who can really make a difference to their lives and their careers.

Another legislative initiative – it’s somewhere in the works; he filed it when he was a member of the House of Representatives in 2013 – is to give every barangay in the country its own fitness centre. Other bills cover a range of issues from a Bill of Rights for air passengers and 180 days maternity leave for all women workers, to SIM-card registration and a handbook for Overseas Foreign Workers.

Perhaps the most contentious pieces of legislation he’s supporting, though, urge the reintroduction of the death penalty – specifically for rape and kidnapping. These are crimes that Pacquiao is particularly concerned about. And with good reason. Kidnappings are a constant threat, particularly in the Sulu Archipelago region where terror groups like Abu Sayyaf operate and where unpaid ransoms result in the summarily killing of victims. Meanwhile rape – there were 9,916 of them last year (correction: there were 9,916 reported last year; how many there actually were we dread to think) – is a nationwide problem affecting both women and children.

In each of these crimes, Pacquiao – with supporters in Congress and across the country – believes that the lack of a severe penalty, as a deterrent, has emboldened the perpetrators and it’s time to take the gloves off. Presently, the downside for those caught – prison time with the chance of parole – is factored in by those who commit these offences and, going by the figures, it would seem that to them the risk is worth it. Being hanged by the neck until dead or facing a firing squad might make them reassess the risk.

From his Senate seat he’s shown he can deliver a hard political punch – seen most recently when he moved successfully to have the Senate inquiry into extrajudicial killings terminated. This effectively ended the chairmanship of Senator Leila De Lima who was concurrently being investigated in the House of Representatives for allegedly benefitting from the illegal narcotics trade.

Pacquiao is one of very few who have successfully transitioned from the sports arena to the political arena. Other stand-out examples include, Pakistan cricketer, Imran Khan, who captained his side to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup and four years later launched his own political party; Austrian-born bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1967 Mr Universe and seven-times winner of the Mr Olympia title who went on to become the Governor of California for two terms, 2003-11, and British middle-distance runner, Sebastian Coe, twice Olympic 1500-metre gold medal winner, who became a member of British parliament and later a member of the House of Lords.

The transition from the boxing world is even rarer – Ugandan dictator, Ida Amin Dada, who took power in a coup in 1971 and was driven into exile eight years later, is the only contender we could find. Amin was Uganda’s national light heavyweight champion from 1951 to 1960. But although he may have been at the top of his game in the ring, as the leader of a country he was anything but.

For sure, Pacman has detractors, but even the most hardened of these cannot deny he’s become a living icon of the Philippines – not just at home, but abroad also. And whether or not they support him politically, whether or not they are sympathetic to the causes he champions in Congress, one thing they will all agree on is that he fights with the same passion and determination on the floor of the Senate that he does in the ring. And spectators at either venue are guaranteed to get their money’s worth.

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