Power punches | Inquirer Opinion

Watch as the administration’s troll army now sink their fangs and tear into Manny Pacquiao, as the boxing champ-turned-senator has become a critic of sorts lately with his allegations of corruption in government. Already, Duterte partisans on social media are poring over Pacquiao’s SALN, suddenly zealous in trying to discover anomalies in the fabulously wealthy sportsman’s records after President Duterte took a dig at his former ally by raising Pacquiao’s previous tax evasion case.

Malacañang was quick to put down Pacquiao’s claims about irregularities in the disbursement of pandemic funds by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Health (DOH) as examples of corruption permeating the Duterte administration. In the typically tacky formulation of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque: “Akala ko atom bomb, ‘yon pala watusi. Wala po, walang kuwenta, kasi puro generalized allegations po. Walang deal particulars, walang specific instance, walang ebidensya, wala man lang follow-up.’’

Pacquiao had courted the President’s ire for his jabs about corruption and Mr. Duterte’s policy on the West Philippine Sea. To the President’s dare that he “identify the corrupt offices” or else he would “campaign against you… I will just tell the people, do not vote for Pacquiao because he is a liar,” Pacquiao obliged, partly, by singling out the DOH and the DSWD and presenting piles of documents on his desk supposedly containing evidence of corruption in these agencies.

On the DOH, he said he had evidence to prove that the agency had been buying nearly expired medicines at regular prices when these should have been purchased at much lower prices. He also said he would expose the misuse of pandemic funds by the DOH.

On the DSWD, Pacquiao claimed P10.4 billion was missing under the social amelioration program (SAP), or the “ayuda’’ for poor families during the pandemic, after the agency entrusted P50 billion to an “unknown’’ e-wallet app, Starpay, which has a paid-up capital of P62,000. He said that of the 1.8 million SAP beneficiaries, only 500,000 were able to use the Starpay app.

Are these flimsy allegations? Far from it. They strike at the very core of the Duterte administration’s governance in the time of the pandemic, and whether Pacquiao’s motives are driven by patriotism or personal ambitions, such grave charges deserve serious scrutiny. They aren’t even new or original; well before the senator’s new-found appetite for poking at the administration’s vaunted anti-corruption credentials, such allegations have dogged the agencies concerned over the past year or so as the chaotic response to the pandemic has unfolded.

Contrary to Roque’s claim, Pacquiao also appears to have evidence to back up his charges, citing certain numbers and specifics that any government committed to rigor and transparency would at least look into as possible starting points for an honest-to-goodness probe. But this is not that government, and Pacquiao, long a reliable Duterte cheerleader, is no longer a comrade.

Unfortunately, Pacquiao didn’t help his cause when, after dropping his bombshell on July 3, he left the following day for the US to train for his welterweight bout against Errol Spence Jr. on Aug. 21, leaving the nation in suspended animation. Complained Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee: “… While the accuser has made an accusation, he opts not to be present when the investigation is supposed to be conducted.’’

Is there any doubt that Pacquiao’s pivot away from the President was triggered by his presidential ambitions and his sense of betrayal at being the object of conspiracy by the President and his gofers in the ruling party PDP-Laban? The Palace-sanctioned party moves against him have driven Pacquiao into a corner, forcing him to retaliate by throwing his notorious left hook at the centerpiece claim of the Duterte brand—that it is unforgiving toward corruption.

And why should Malacañang be miffed at that, when the President himself, in October 2020, bewailed that corruption had indeed worsened under his watch? “I have made a pledge… that I will concentrate the last remaining years of my term fighting corruption, because up to now, it is not waning, it is becoming stronger,” said Mr. Duterte in a televised address.

Pacquiao’s reiteration of that assessment would earn him the counterpunch of being derided as power-hungry. He and former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of the administration’s bêtes noires, are alike, chortled the President: “They want to, you know, hold power…” That’s an accusation Pacquiao wouldn’t lose sleep over, if only because the accuser himself, after repeatedly grousing about having grown bone-weary of his job as leader of the country and wanting to resign on many occasions, now thinks he should extend his stay by running for vice president.

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