Senator Manny Pacquiao revealed he may have been an armed rebel if he did not become a legendary boxing champion.
Citing his humble roots in the mountains of Mindanao, the presidential candidate said he himself experienced the abject poverty that drives many to take up arms against the Manila government.
“If I did not become a boxer, there was a big chance that I would be in the mountains bearing arms,” Pacquiao said in the Peace and the Presidentiables online forum by peace advocates and universities.
The world’s lone eight weight division champion said poverty and mal-development, driven by corruption in government, are the root causes of armed conflict in the country, problems he vowed to eliminate if he becomes president.
The senator said he will revive the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and will make sure that agreements between both parties are respected and implemented.
“We should listen to them (rebels). There is solution to every problem. They ask nothing but development and food for everybody,” he said in Filipino.
Pacquiao said he is also open to honoring past agreements, such as free land distribution to poor farmers agreed and initialled by both parties in June 2017 before President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled formal talks.
The senator said that land grabbed from farmers and indigenous peoples by powerful and rich, particularly by those in government, must be returned.
“If I become president, I will not allow that to happen. Puputulin ko ang sungay ng mga ganid at mapagsamantala sa gubyerno,” he said. (I will cut the horns off the heads of the greedy and corrupt in government.)
Pacquiao also said he is not in favor of red-tagging activities by the government’s anti-insurgency arm, the National Task Force Against Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), especially against the innocent.
“NTF-ELCAC’s funds must instead be utilized for the genuine development of communities,” he added.
The presidential candidate also did not agree with the government’s designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorists as well as NTF-ELCAC’s statement that negotiating peace with the underground groups is naive.
“They are those who take up arms because of poverty and have seen they have very little chance of getting justice under this rotten system,” Pacquiao said.
The senator however declined to endorse the immediate release of NDFP peace consultants and other political prisoners as part of a confidence-building measure for the resumption of formal negotiations with the NDFP.
While acknowledging that many political prisoners may have been wrongfully jailed, he said he will instead endorse swift judicial procedures to allow the innocent to return to their families.
Responding to Pacquiao’s answers to questions on peace, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo said the senator’s humble origins makes him credible in identifying poverty, lack of jobs and development, the poor’s political disempowerment, and unequal application of justice as the root causes of armed conflict.
“The senator failed to fully explain his stand on the NTF-ELCAC but he is right in saying its funds must be used for real community development. It is notable that he also mentioned that ordinary police officers and soldiers are just being used by abusive government officials,” Araullo noted.
Pacquiao is the first among the May 2022 presidential candidates who attended the series organized by the Citizen’s alliance for Just Peace in cooperation with the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform, the Pilgrims for Peace, Sulong Peace and Waging Peace.
Tuesday’s online forum was supported by the La Sallian Justice and Peace Commission of Da La Salle University, Fr. Saturnino Urios University, the Silliman University Student Council,St. Scholastica’s College-Manila and the University of the Philippines. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)