The rising political fever

The rising political fever

President Duterte (left) during his controversial interview with evangelist Apollo Quiboloy (2nd from right). (Photo courtesy by PCOO)

In recent weeks, and less than four months before the filing of certificates of candidacy for the presidential elections in May 2022, things have become “curiouser and curiouser” – to borrow the quotation from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland minted in 1865.

We are not even talking of the list disclosed by the opposition coalition 1Sambayan announced during the 123rd Independence Day celebration on June 12, with supposedly six politicians headed by Vice President Leni Robredo, according to convenor former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario.

Of the six, only former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV announced his intention to run for President, but clarified he would step aside if Robredo decides to run for the post.

Del Rosario had said the six agreed to be part of the coalition’s field of nominees, but some political sources said the four others were backing out.

Our thoughts, understandably intrigued – let’s just say romanced – by two men holding top posts in the same party quarrelling publicly over how foreign policy, properly the domain of the chief executive of the land, is being handled.

We refer to the contretemps heard in public and the social media between President Rodrigo Duterte, chairman of the ruling PDP-Laban, and Senator Manny Pacquiao, president of the same party.

The verbal tussle reached a point where the President, a lawyer and graduate of the Benedictine-run San Beda College of Law in Mendiola, perhaps in a moment of galling annoyance or extreme exasperation, told the boxer-turned-politician, 34 years his junior, to educate himself on the subtleties of foreign policy and diplomacy.

Pacquiao, publicized as a graduate of AB political science, a four-year bachelor’s degree course, from the University of Makati which he finished, according to broadcasts, in four months or less, made a counterpunch by reminding the President that he was only exercising his right as a Filipino to speak out his mind, particularly when national sovereignty was on the line.

The duo clashed over the South China Sea territorial dispute — a key policy issue for the president, architect of the country’s foreign policy. Friction between Pacquiao and other senior party officers also has reached fever pitch over presidential succession plans.

A few days back, a feud erupted between Duterte and Pacquiao over the South China Sea, an issue that the political opposition often uses to attack the president, who has nurtured closer ties with Beijing after pivoting to the country’s giant neighbor as from the start of his six-year term in 2016.

Less than a year before Duterte steps down from the presidency, he threw a left hook at Pacquiao, belittling the senator’s intelligence and suggesting that the former champion boxer first study hard before making comments on foreign policy.

But the 42-year-old senator dodged the jibes of the 76-year-old leader and unleashed his own return punch by reminding the President that he was only exercising his right as a Filipino to speak out his mind, particularly when national sovereignty was on the line.

But Pacquiao said in a statement: “I respect the President’s opinion but humbly disagree with his assessment of my understanding of foreign policy. I am a Filipino voicing out what needs to be said in defense of what has been adjudicated as rightfully ours.

“I firmly believe that my statement reflects the sentiment of the majority of the Filipinos, that we should stand strong in protecting our sovereign rights while pursuing a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the dispute.”

Pacquiao had said that Duterte’s stance on the disputed waters had softened compared to when he was running for the presidency and promised to “jet ski” to the Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine flag.

“We have heard him say during the elections that he was going to ride a jet ski carrying the Philippine flag to the Spratlys. Of course, I knew in my heart that I would vote for him because he’s the kind of President we need; someone who will fight for our country,” Pacquiao said.

But the reminder of a failed promise prompted the President to demean the senator on a television interview with his ally, evangelist Apollo Quiboloy, after initially saying he did not want to “degrade” Pacquiao.

“Apparently this guy has a very shallow knowledge,” the President said.

“It’s about foreign policy. I would not want to degrade him, but next time he should [study hard first before coming in],” Duterte said in a mix of Tagalog and English.

Many observers agree that Pacquiao should not get himself trapped in unfamiliar terrain. (ai/mtvn)

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