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.

Punch drunk: Pacquiao’s “platform” of government

Politicians will always have their way of promising the moon and the stars, as the old saying goes. But nothing prepared me to read that Senator Manny Pacquiao promised to wipe out the problem of illegal settlers — or commonly known as “squatters” — if and when he becomes President of the Republic. From the manner he made that promise, it would seem that he really believes his own propaganda. And that is the most dangerous thing that can happen to a politician: believing his or her own propaganda.

First things first.

On Thursday, Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” Pimentel III broached in an interview with Karen Davila on the ANC YouTube channel that he considered Pacquiao “the best choice” for the PDP-Laban to field as presidential candidate in the 2022 national and local elections. “He has many plans… he has a good platform of government… many people have pledged their support to him for whatever position he seeks,” Pimentel said.

Pacquiao knows what it is to be poor, according to Pimentel. He’s experienced being dirt poor and sleeping on the pavement and now enjoys comfortable living in expensive subdivisions. “He’s seen it all,” he said in Tagalog.

And if Pacquiao would listen to him, he would urge him to declare his intention to run for President by July or August, he added.

There was a time when I held Koko Pimentel in high regard. Being the son of the late Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr., he comes with a good pedigree in principled politics. Koko was topnotcher in the 1989 Bar Examinations. And riding on the good name of his father, he became Senator of the Republic (after initially missing the 12th slot for more than half the term in his first try due to election fraud). At a young age, he rose to the Senate Presidency.

But a principled politician, Koko is not. He is not even a shadow of his father. He was quickly devoured by the corruption of the Senate and learned how to “play the game”. He became a loyal member of the “Den of Thieves”.

Nonetheless, that low perception of the guy didn’t quite prepare me to hear him speak about Manny Pacquiao as if the boxer is God’s gift to the Filipino people in 2022. His remarks in the Karen Davila interview were horrible, to say the least. He didn’t sound like a lawyer, much less a bar topnotcher. Koko spoke like a rotten traditional politician that his departed father despised.

How can he even say that Pacquiao is fit to be considered a presidential timber? Is it because of Pacquiao’s wealth and popularity? Has the standard of Koko’s measurement for a leader gone so low that he will now settle for a brawler without brains as his candidate?

I’m afraid Koko’s mental faculties may have suffered a short-circuit when he was infected with Covid-19 virus a year ago. Even the ordinary Filipino on the street would easily know that Pacquiao is not even fit to be a Senator. He was carried to this position only because of the people’s adulation for his success as a boxer. I must confess I was among those who voted for him; I thought it was a gift befitting his triumph over the many obstacles in life. But never did I expect Pacquiao to demonstrate anywhere near a capabality to be a good legislator.

Koko said Pacquiao has a platform of government. Please spell it out. And let Pacquiao face the Filipino people in a virtual townhall meeting so he can be asked questions live on social media. This will allow the electorate an opportunity to dissect that platform of government, if it does exist, and be persuaded by Pacquiao. As of now, I haven’t really encountered any “platform of government” other than this out-of-this-world promise to eradicate the problem of illegal settlers.

Perhaps Koko and Pacquiao can elaborate on this so-called platform. How does Pacquiao hope to accomplish it? I am sure that even if he spends his lifetime winnings as a boxer, he won’t be able to get past 5% of fulfilling that promise. It is completely delusional.

As the “intelligent” person between the two of them, Koko should counsel his friend that he will be the laughingstock of the country if he continues talking this way. Koko’s behavior is trash. His father is likely to turn in his grave at seeing his son deteriorate into the kind of politician he spent a lifetime trying to eradicate from our society.