Thrilla in Manila: Duterte vs Pacquiao

Thrilla in Manila: Duterte vs Pacquiao

Rodrigo Duterte, the tough-talking president of the Philippines, pulls no punches with his political opponents. But this time he's picking on a popular rival who speaks softly yet can actually throw a jab or two himself: boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao. Less than 10 months out from next year's presidential election, a recent public feud between the two could usher in an epic slugfest for the top job.

"Pacman" is immensely famous at home and abroad. He's considered the best pound-for-pound boxer of all time after winning world championship titles in more weight classes than anyone else. What's more, Pacquiao is a rare unifying force in the Philippines: guerrilla groups and the army usually call a truce and the entire country grinds to a halt to watch him fight. After rising from abject poverty to become a global icon and national celebrity, Pacquiao served two terms as a congressman, and in 2016 was elected senator.

From Duterte ally to enemy. Just weeks ago, Duterte was mentioning Pacquiao as a potential successor, in part because he supported Duterte's controversial war on drugs and anti-terror law. But in early June, when rumors of a Pacquiao presidential run started swirling, the two had a highly dramatic falling out.

Pacquiao first called out Duterte for being soft on China after failing to stand up to Xi Jinping over the presence of China's maritime militia in Philippine-claimed waters in the South China Sea. Then he accused the government of pocketing over $200 million in missing pandemic relief funds. Duterte, as expected, lashed out at Pacquiao, urging the senator to study foreign policy and daring him to show evidence of corruption.

Duterte-Duterte vs Pacquiao. Over the weekend, Pacquiao was ousted as leader of Duterte's ruling PDP-Laban party as payback for criticizing the president. In Philippine politics — where personality trumps ideology, and political parties serve as mere vehicles for candidates — Pacquiao's removal doesn't mean he can't run for president. If he does, though, it'll be against the wishes of powerful pro-administration politicians who dominate both houses of parliament.

In the Philippines, the only country in the world that elects a president and vice president separately for single terms, Duterte's party allies want him to run for vice president alongside his daughter Sara, current mayor of her dad's hometown of Davao. (Fun fact: Sara Duterte likes a good fistfight too.)

Strengths and weaknesses. For Aries Arugay, professor of political science at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Pacquiao's fame and prominence are his best assets as a presidential candidate. His rags-to-riches story can be very potent as a political campaign because it "resonates well [with] a country with widespread socioeconomic inequality and exclusionary politics."

"The Filipino electorate historically like their politicians with grounded, authentic, and relatable narratives that can be converted to 'electability.' His weakness is his relative lack of political experience," says Arugay, who warns that Pacquiao's U-turn on Duterte "can be a bane, since Filipinos might construe this as his political ambition acting out and therefore a betrayal."

Pacquiao's odds. Although right now the Duterte-Duterte ticket is leading the polls while Pacquiao is in single digits, he's the only presidential hopeful with enough wealth to self-fund his campaign, and the name recognition to challenge the formidable daughter-father team. Pacquiao can appeal to Duterte's base of poor voters, and, being from the same region as the president, erode Duterte's strong support in vote-rich Mindanao.

Also, Pacquiao has recently honed in on what Arugay calls "low-hanging fruit": animosity toward China and tackling corruption. First, China's net trust rating among Filipinos is currently at a dismal -36. Second, poor Filipinos might turn on Duterte if Pacquiao offers credible proof of the president's alleged involvement in skimming funds intended to help those hit hardest by the COVID-induced economic wreckage.

He could even rally together the highly fragmented and overwhelmingly liberal opposition despite Pacquiao's deeply conservative views on issues like LGBT rights or the death penalty. Even if it "reeks of desperation," Arugay points out, "there have been stranger bedfellows" in previous Philippine elections.

What does his candidacy tell us about the state of Philippine politics? Although it's hardly surprising, says Arugay, "the bar on qualifications for the presidency not only remains low but actually has become lower." The country, he adds, is "trapped in political hell, wherein citizens only get to choose between legacy (dynasties) but incompetent, and celebrity but politically inept."

Duterte is worried about Pacquiao winning because he won't have immunity against prosecution as VP (it's common for incoming Philippine presidents to investigate their predecessors within months of taking office). Only his daughter would presumably give Duterte a free pass on corruption, human rights violations, or shady deals with China.

Stay tuned for August 21, when the boxing legend returns to the ring for the first time in two years. If Pacquiao, 42, beats an American fighter 11 years his junior, don't be surprised if Filipinos desperate for some good news amid the pandemic give the boxer-turned-senator a major bump in the polls — which Pacquiao could ride all the way to Malacañang Palace next year.

In a new episode of That Made All the Difference, Savita Subramanian, head of ESG Research, BofA Global Research, explains why ESG factors are critical to why some companies succeed and some fail.

"I think 10 years from now, we won't even call it 'environmental, social and governance,' or ESG investing. We won't call it sustainable. It'll just be part of investing," she says.

Link to the episode here.

This weekend, world leaders will open the COP26 climate summit, the UN's annual climate change conference, in Glasgow. Some insist this event is crucial to the multinational fight to limit the effects of climate change; others dismiss it as a circus that will feature politicos, protesters and celebrities competing for attention – one that's long on lofty promises and short on substance.

What's on the agenda?

Political leaders and negotiators from more than 120 countries will gather to talk about two big subjects. First, how to reduce the heat-trapping carbon emissions that scientists warn can inflict catastrophic damage on millions of people. This is where they'll offer their "nationally determined contributions," diplomatic jargon for their updated promises on their climate goals. Second, how to help poorer countries pay for adaptation to the climate damage that's already unavoidable.

More Show less

Less than a year after the world started putting COVID vaccines into people's arms, most regions have immunized at least half their populations, but Africa still lags behind. With industrialized nations hoarding jabs and the COVAX facility faltering, barely five percent of the African population is fully vaccinated.

Some enterprising South African scientists are now making a bold bid to change that, with an experiment that could benefit not only Africa's 54 nations and billion people, but the entire world: Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a Cape Town-based startup, has developed a plan to reverse-engineer Moderna's mRNA shot and manufacture it for priority distribution on the continent.

More Show less

11: Hit by a massive new COVID wave, Moscow has issued an 11-day lockdown of schools, businesses, and all "non-essential" services. Russia is now one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, having recorded 400,000 deaths by some estimates. Russia's high rate of vaccine skepticism isn't helping.

More Show less

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Has Russian behavior in cyber changed after President Biden and President Putin's meeting earlier this year?

Well, unfortunately, we see ongoing assertiveness and aggression from the Russian side, targeting the US government, but also US tech companies. And the fact that there is so little accountability probably keeps motivating. Shortly before the Russian elections, Apple and Google removed an app built by opposition parties, to help voters identify the best candidate to challenge Putin's party. The company sided pressure on their employees in Russia, but of course, the pressure on the Russian population is constant. And after these dramatic events, the silence from Western governments was deafening.

More Show less

No government today has the toolbox to tinker with Big Tech – that's why it's time to start thinking of the biggest tech companies as bona fide "digital nation states" with their own foreign relations, Ian Bremmer explains on GZERO World. Never has a small group of companies held such an expansive influence over humanity. And in this vast new digital territory, governments have little idea what to do.

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Big Tech: Global sovereignty, unintended consequences

Right now, only one region of the world is reporting an increase in new daily COVID cases. Here's a hint: it's one of the places where vaccines are, for the most part, easiest to get.

It's Europe. According to the World Health Organization, the region last week notched a 7 percent uptick in new daily infections, the third week in a row that infections rose there.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal