Pacquiao’s Sarangani: a very poor province

With Manny Pacquiao seemingly intent on pursuing his grand ambition to run for the Presidency, a good place to start in looking at his track record as a public servant is Sarangani province where he comes from. This assumes high relevance because one of his first promises is that he will eradicate homelessness in the country in a matter of 4 to 5 years. One needs only an ounce of common sense to know that this is one of those “suntok-sa-buwan (punch at the moon)” promises that traditional politicians are known to dish out in abundance.

But we have to admit that such a promise made by Pacquiao will gain believers among the country’s multitudes. Early in his political career, Pacquiao learned quickly that patronage politics remains a powerful magic potion that can achieve electoral victory. The first time Pacquiao tried his hand in politics, he ran against Darlene Antonino for the congressional seat in General Santos in 2007. He thought his popularity was enough to propel him to victory. The diminutive young woman trounced the world boxing champion at the polls.

Pacquiao didn’t want to risk losing a second time and moved to Sarangani, the home province of his wife. This time, he came prepared with his money. Long before the elections, he literally threw money around to buy political loyalty among the province’s deeply-entrenched leaders. In 2010, he won the seat as congressman of Sarangani.

That was 11 years ago. When he won, he promised he would pour all his pork barrel into projects in the province. “I don’t need it anyway,” Pacquiao was quoted in The New York Times. It was a subtle admission that as congressman, he could have pocketed the 70 million pesos a year in pork barrel funds as many legislators have been wont to do. He also promised to build 1,000 houses for indigent families in the province. Pacquiao wanted to solve the poverty problem in the province.

Now that his name is being tossed about as a possible candidae for President in the May 9, 2022 elections, it is about time his track record as poltician for a decade now is scrutinized under a microscope. That need assumes a sense of urgency because in survey after survey, Pacquiao’s name is consistently in the top five possible candidates, even higher than Vice President Leni Robredo. Clearly, his popularity has earned him a substantial political base to make him a serious contender.

Hence, the question begs to be asked: What is the feasibility of Pacquiao’s promise to give every “eskuwater” a home — a condominium unit or a house — in four to five years, without having to pay a single centavo? Coming from Pacquiao, that kind of a promise can easily bite into the consciousness of the poor. Pacquiao, in their eyes, is one of them. He knows their suffering and their aspirations. He shares their frustrations and dreams.

The logical thing to do is scrutinize Pacquiao’s track record as an elected public official, from his six years as congressman of the lone district of Sarangani and five years as Senator.

Eleven years are enough time for Pacquiao to have made an impact on the economy of Sarangani and uplift the lives of his constituents. If Pacquiao was serious about pursuing that goal, significant progress could have been achieved by now, especially in providing free housing for the poor. Perhaps Sarangani could be made a model for inclusive development for the entire country to emulate.

Unfortunately, nothing of the sort happened. There was no miracle that the poor may have hoped for. After 11 years, Sarangani is still poor. In fact, it holds the distinction as one of the 20 poorest provinces in the country. That fact is rather strange, because Sarangani is next door neighbor to General Santos City, a highly-urbanized city labelled as the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines.” Its capital town of Alabel is only 15 kilometers by car from General Santos. Remoteness from economic activities could not possibly be the reason for its people being poor.

The table above shows that Sarangani in 2015 continued to experience a high incidence of poverty while Pacquiao was congressman. In fact, the poverty incidence rate slighty grew from 46.0% in 2012 to 47.3% in 2015.

What happened to Pacquiao’s promise to pour all his pork barrel into the province? What projects did he implement that should have given an impetus for the economic growth of the province? And with economic growth will definitely come improvement in the quality of life for the people. Obviously, the situation only turned from bad to worse.

At the least, it shows that Pacquiao didn’t know how to make the best use of his pork barrel to bring about a better economy for his people. Most probably, he spent his pork barrel on patronage projects — non-essential projects that made mayors and barangay captains look good but didn’t contribute to progress.

If he couldn’t make a difference in a small province like Sarangani, why would Pacquiao now want to take on a much tougher responsibility of being the President of the Republic? Well, it’s obvious to me it’s all about power. He simply loves power.

Pacquiao promised to build 1,000 houses to poor constituents in Sarangani. That was 10 years ago. How many did he actually deliver? My research shows that he was able to fulfill less than one-half of that number. And here he comes with another incredible promise to provide every homeless Filipino with a condo unit or house, without having to pay a single centavo. His time frame: four to five years.

It’s sad to see that Pacquiao has become the worst traditional politician in the 11 years he has been in politics. His vow to help the poor hasn’t gone beyond the words. Every once in a while, he goes around giving cash to people. But how many got to receive P1,000 from him? It’s not even enough to feed them for a week.

We shouldn’t take Pacquiao’s ambition to run for the Presidency lightly. The man has quite a substantial political base, composed mostly of the poor who are prone to believe his most unbelievable promises. This early, we have to expose him as a fraud. And even if he backs down from a presidential bid, we should make sure he doesn’t get a second term as Senator if only to deliver a strong message to individuals like him that Filipinos have matured.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

2 Responses to Pacquiao’s Sarangani: a very poor province

  1. Vinze Cyler Maglaqui says:

    Magpatuloy lang po kayo sir,I support you

    Liked by 1 person

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