DUTERTE, PACQUIAO READY TO RUMBLE: Wedge widens as Senator accepts President’s challenge

Editor in Chief

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao appeared ready to ditch their friendship and alliance and knock each other out as their word war heated to new level instead of cooling off.

Duterte, who up to press time has not responded to Pacquiao’s request for a meeting to clear things up, even questioned his administration’s party, the PDP-Laban, of which he is the chairman and Pacquiao the acting president, pointing out that it is “a Pimentel party,” referring to former Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, one of the leaders of the party whose father and namesake founded the party with anti-Marcos stalwarts.

The development prompted Senate minority leader and Liberal Party (LP) leader Franklin Drilon to predict that the word war could lead to a breakup of the ruling party and ouster of Pacquiao as president.
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“This development will have, to me, serious implications in the 2022 elections, the ruling party will be split,” said Drilon at a virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum. 

“It will not harm the opposition to have the split. It will certainly help if the administration will be split given all the resources given all the troll farms, given the social media expense and resources that (it has),” Drilon added.

Duterte’s woes with his own party sizzled as he marked the start of his last year In office before he vows out on June 30, 2022, Amid the “party trouble” Duterte cited his accomplishments during the last five years.

The Duterte-Pacquiao word war started when the senator questioned a faction of PDP-Laban for calling a meeting without Pacquiao’s approval and without being informed of the agenda as party president. Pacquiao then called on party members to boycott the meeting and comply with party rules.

It turned out that Duterte, as party chairman, endorsed the meeting in Cebu City where he was adopted in a resolution to be the party’s candidate for vice president in 2022 with the authority to choose his presidential candidate, raising speculations for a Mayor Sara Duterte-Rodrigo Duterte tandem.

The party faction decision apparently was questioned by Pacquiao who commented that there are other candidates that the party could choose from.

Then Pacquiao aired criticisms of Duterte’s leadership and threatened to expose corruption and anomalies within the Duterte government, a move that is seen by pro-Duterte members of the PDP-Laban as Pacquiao’s political projection as possible presidential candidate leading to the 2022 presidential elections.

Visibly irked, Duterte responded in a televised briefing and slammed Pacquiao for alleging that the present administration is “two times” or “three times” more corrupt than its predecessors.

Duterte then dared the senator to prove his allegations or he will campaign against Pacquiao in the upcoming polls.

The sportsman-turned-politician accepted the challenge and said he will prove to Duterte that he is not a liar. He said Duterte should look into alleged corruption in the Department of Health and explain where the money appropriated in the fight against Covid-19 have gone.

Earlier, Pacquiao also questioned Duterte’s approach on the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea which many believe to be “too friendly towards China.”

Duterte is expected to deliver his state of the nation address (SONA) this month but Pacquiao immediately announced he was leaving for Los Angeles on July 3 to step up his training for his upcoming fight against American world champion Errol Spence in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 21.

Earlier, Pacquiao was caught on video criticizing the worsening corruption in government in the Duterte’s administration.

In a video on social media, the senator was seen saying: “Sa totoo lang, ngayon talaga kung ano yung korupsyon sa past administration, yung kay PNoy (former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III), mas doble ngayon doble o sobra pa, maniwala ka sa akin. Sabi ko di ko makakain yang ginagawa ng mga ito (The truth is the corruption we experienced in the past administration, during PNoy’s time, it doubled, worsened, believe me. I told myself, I cannot stomach this practice.)”

Based on a video posted by the Pacquiao Public Information Office Facebook page, the senator hoped that the next Philippine leader can solve this issue.”Ang gripo daming tagas, daming tagas, dapat ayusin. Ang ibig kong sabihin, maraming korupsyon ang iba ibang ahensya ng gobyerno,(This needs a lot of fixing. What I mean is there is a lot of corruption in the government agencies.),”  Pacquiao stressed.

“Please maawa tayo sa sambayanang Pilipino. Ang pangarap ko na ang susunod na lider sa bansa natin na ito dapat ang gawin,” he further pointed out.

Pacquiao was either “absent” or “preoccupied” when Cabinet secretaries, particularly Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, explained before the Senate the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response efforts, according to Malacañang.

Duque said in radio and television interviews he was surprised with Pacquiao identifying the Department of Health (DOH) as the first government agency that should be investigated over the purchase of Covid-19 rapid test kits, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, and face masks.

Duterte, however, stressed that the DOH was ready to face Pacquiao, adding that a DOH report on the matters he wanted to look into will be sent to him.

In a related development, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Pacquiao appeared to be clueless about the government’s transparency when it comes to handling finances earmarked for Covid-19 pandemic response.

“Sa akin po, absent po siguro si Senator Pacquiao noong nag-presenta ‘yung mga Cabinet secretary (For me, perhaps, Senator Pacquiao was absent when Cabinet secretaries presented). Or kung hindi siya (Or if he is not) absent, he may have been preoccupied with something else,” Roque said.

Pacquiao named the DOH as the first state department that might be riddled with corruption after President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday challenged him to name corrupt workers in government.

Duterte’s challenge on Pacquiao came following the senator’s claim that corruption is getting worse under the current administration.

Roque said Duque was able to present the DOH’s expenses and submit reports to the Senate.

“Nanggaling na si Secretary Duque doon sa Senado. Nag-explain na po siya doon. At wala namang kasong naisampa matapos po ‘yung eskplanasyon ni Secretary Duque (Secretary Duque already faced the Senate. He explained there and no cases were filed after Secretary Duque’s explanation),” he said.

Roque also questioned Pacquiao’s failure to ask Duque when Senate held inquiries into the government’s Covid-19 response efforts.

“Hindi ko nga lang alam kung nandoon nga po siya noong naghi-hearing ang Senado at kung meron siyang mga tanong na ibinato kay Secretary Duque noong mga pagkakataon na ‘yun (I’m not sure if he attended the Senate hearing and asked questions to Secretary Duque at that time),” he said.

Duque said he was “disheartened” over Pacquiao’s corruption allegations against his department.

Duque, in a statement, said his office submits itself to legislators’ inquiries as “part of the checks and balances” in government.

He added that the DOH “has always been transparent” about fund utilization.