Perhaps one of the Philippines’ most globally famous people is Senator Emmanuel “Manny” Dapidran Pacquiao, a 43-year-old presidential candidate and “rags-to-riches” former world boxing champion. He is the only eight-division world champion in the history of boxing and winner of 12 major world titles. A born-again Christian, he now dreams of “cleansing the country of corruption, ending poverty and building homes for all Filipinos.”
Pacquiao gave this writer a one-hour exclusive interview at his residence in North Forbes Park, Makati. Here are excerpts:
THE PHILIPPINE STAR: Critics claim you’re a good guy but you don’t know anything about running the country as president; other critics say you don’t know how to speak English fluently. Your reactions?
SENATOR MANNY PACQUIAO: How did I communicate with my foreign friends if I didn’t learn to speak English? I spoke English with Obama, Clinton, Prince Harry, Jack Ma and others. Saying I don’t know anything, that is their only way to attack me, because they cannot accuse me of vices, womanizing, gambling, corruption. They also attack me for absences when I was congressman, but I had perfect attendance as senator.
I know the problems of our country. I want to cleanse corruption, fight poverty and give housing to our people. My No. 1 priority is to cleanse government, from national to the local governments. My No. 2 priority is strengthen our economy and create jobs for millions of jobless Filipinos. I want to give sustainable livelihoods to Filipino families through small businesses. We need economic recovery. Focus on PDC — not post-dated checks (laughs), but production, distribution and consumption. How come we’re a country that imports almost everything, even galunggong? That’s already corruption!
How was your meeting with then President Obama? You had no interpreter?
(Laughs) Wala akong interpreter (I had no interpreter). I was invited to the White House in 2011 to meet President Barack Obama and his Vice President was Joe Biden. Obama is an outstanding leader. We talked about government, boxing, basketball, about development. We talked about economy, government, sports. He loves basketball. I was also invited to the US Senate and met their leaders.
You’ve met Bill Clinton, too. Where?
I was invited to dinner with Clinton when I had a fight in Las Vegas. I wasn’t a senator yet. We had a good conversation. He is a good leader.
Alibaba.com founder Jack Ma of China is one of Asia’s richest billionaires. Your impressions of him?
He’s a good friend. We would talk over lunch or dinner, we both came from poverty. He is a very good businessman and humble. During COVID-19, Jack Ma donated P1.5 billion worth of medical supplies to the Philippines through my Manny Pacquiao Foundation. His investments in the Philippines are in GCash and Lazada. If I win as President, I will invite him to add to his investments in the country. You know, in China, with other business partners, I’m also planning to put up the Manny Pacquiao Boxing Academy in Shanghai, Beijing and Xiamen.
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You’ve also met Prince Harry. Your impressions?
I was invited to meet Prince Harry at their Buckingham Palace in England. You know, what I couldn’t forget, those royalty, they have very nice complexion, they really have different kind of skin.
Was it true I heard that the famous Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves once visited your Beverly Hills mansion in California and had to wait for you for five hours?
No, he didn’t wait five hours, but he stayed and we talked for two hours. Keanu Reeves is a humble, good guy. He came riding a motorcycle. We talked about movies. He’s also good at shooting guns.
Another Hollywood star who visited you was actor Mark Wahlberg. Who else, any actresses?
Yes, Mark is a friend, he had visited me at Wild Card Gym… Another friend who had visited to watch my fights is Paris Hilton. She watched my boxing matches in Las Vegas, also in Macau.
When you first met Paris Hilton, were you already a born-again Christian?
(Laughs) No, hindi pa ako born-again noon (No, I wasn’t born-again then). I was still wild then (laughs). She always watched my fights; she’s my friend.
Before you became born-again, you were a womanizer and I heard that you almost separated from your wife, Jinkee? How many times had you been caught by her?
Nahuli ako maraming beses (I was caught many times). For years, I kept promising Jinkee that I will change.
So Jinkee is a very good, patient wife? How many times were you caught?
Grabe! She’s a very good wife. If it was another wife, due to all crazy things I’ve done, we would have separated already. It was not only 10 times or 20 times that I was caught by her; that’s why I bought houses.
Why did you buy houses, for your girlfriends?
No, not girlfriends, so that there are places where Jinkee could go to when she wanted to get away.
How many houses do you own now? These are mansions?
No, they’re just bahay-kubo (laughs). We own seven houses.
Is it true this Forbes Park mansion of yours is for sale? Let me help you sell it. How much?
No, this is not for sale, not at this time of this election.
The late businessman John Gokongwei, Jr. once told me, “Everything is for sale at the right price.” Just in case, what is your price for this mansion?
How did you change from womanizer into a faithful husband?
I changed not because of my wife, not by myself, but because of God. I stopped womanizing; also other vices like too much gambling and too much drinking of alcohol because of my Christian faith. If it is only myself or my willpower, I couldn’t change and stop. It was my faith.
When I stopped from my vices, like gambling and gave up my investments in immoral gambling businesses — even in a fighting cocks business — people said, “Just wait, Manny will come back to those vices in a few months, after one year.” I never went back to my vices. It was because God helped me.
What kind of First Lady will Jinkee be?
Jinkee will focus on advocacies for women, especially single moms.
You still look fit, even after retirement from boxing. What are your exercises now?
I have no exercise nowadays. I have fast metabolism. I eat a lot, but I drink hot tea immediately after every meal to keep fit.
Is it true you don’t eat pork? Is this for health?
No, when I was young, my barkada (close friends) were mostly Muslims, very rare Christians, so in their neighborhood there was no pork. Later on I came to dislike the smell of pork, so I don’t eat pork ever since.
If you become President, how will you help our Muslim minority?
I know the sufferings of our Muslim brothers, how people look down on them and discriminate. I want equality for Muslims and give them importance.
You were poor in your youth, you were so thin before. How did you become a strong boxer?
I got my strength by eating simple foods like bananas, gabi (taro) and corn. I think one important reason I became strong was because my mother Dionesia breastfed me. Breastfeeding is better for babies and their future.
The Philippines has had many good boxing champions in the past hundred years. How come only you became a world-class legend?
My success is a gift from God; nobody can do that except that it is a gift from God. Even my wanting to share through others, this is from God, too.
Is it true I heard that you donate 10 percent of your income to the church and 30 percent to charities?
I usually donate 10 percent for the church, then about 50 percent for charities.
Aren’t you afraid to lose your wealth with this kind of giving?
No, I’m not worried, because the Lord my God, He owns everything. He is the one who gives us everything.
Why do you give free money of P1,000 per person — isn’t this a controversial way of doing politics?
My giving of P1,000 per person or giving of kilos of rice and sardines to people, I started this since 2001. I only entered politics in 2010.
Are you not frustrated — I hear that some of those many people lining up to ask for P1,000 cash gifts from you, some would go back to the very long lines in order to ask again?
No, maybe they just need more. Maybe they are in greater need.
How wealthy are you, your net worth?
I think I am the richest person in the whole world.
Because I have Jesus in my life, because I have God in my life.
When did you become a born-again Christian, how and why?
Before I became born-again in 2011, many pastors would preach to me, invite me to Bible Study and pray for me for years. I didn’t feel the need. But then it came to a point, I was reading the Bible, I felt empty, then I had flashbacks of all my many sins, I kept crying by myself and wanted to even kill myself. I felt so many regrets. I also read the book The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Have you read it? While reading it and also the Bible, I was crying, I felt like the Bible was written for me. I had repentance. Reading the Bible took away my sadness. God revealed to me, I had dreams, God talked to me.
When I became born again, I changed. I used to have a casino in Roxas Boulevard. I also owned a club, farm of fighting cocks; I gave them away, in Metro Manila and in Gen San. They said, “He’ll come back six months, then one year.” They said he will come back in two years, but I never came back and I’m now even preaching in different places where I hold crusades, I do devotion day and night, memorize scripture verses.
There are rumors, even from your critics, that you would soon be withdrawing from this election?
Ako aatras? Wala sa bokabularyo ko ang aatras (Me, withdraw? Withdrawing is not part of my vocabulary). I will only withdraw if there is a revelation from God.
Why are you running for president?
This, my running for president, it is not because I have vested interests or for myself; I am running because I want real changes for our country. I am running because I want to instill discipline. We all know, in our country today, the law is just for those with money, it is not being applied equally, the rich (lawbreakers) are not being jailed. There’s so much bribery everywhere, things wouldn’t move fast without bribes, even businessmen become corrupted because of briberies.
What happened to your “unity talks” with Vice President Leni Robredo? How many times were those meetings?
Our first meeting with the Vice President was in Quezon City in early 2021. I told her I was already decided to run for president and nobody can stop me except for God’s divine will, and I said I was looking for a vice president. After that, I went to America for my boxing fight. I want to tell you the truth; I do not lie. Her answer to me was: “Sige, go ahead, just reserve the vice presidential slot, do not choose yet. Let us talk.” She said she plans to talk to others like Isko, Ping.
Later we talked again twice. I told her, “Vice, I really left the VP slot vacant.” She said she’s still talking to others, that it’s difficult talking to others. I told her I shall wait.
What happened with you and President Duterte? You used to be allies and he even twice said you’ll be the next president.
I’m not angry at the President; who am I to be angry at others? I am angry at wrong acts, not people. God also doesn’t compromise. If you’re doing good things, we’re together, but if not, we are not together.
Are you still open to President Duterte endorsing you, since he still doesn’t have a presidential candidate?
To all, I’m open to anyone joining me in my goal of real changes and to help me cleanse the country.
Before you became boxing champion, you were once a pandesal baker?
Yes, I worked for a long time as pandesal baker. I was also a construction worker, a welder. When I used to work the whole day welding, at night my eyes felt like they had sand and it was painful.
Boxing is a cruel and dangerous sport; no rich kids go into it usually. Was it true you were once sleeping at a gym and when you woke up a boxer beside you was dead?
Yes, they said it’s bangungot. I think the reason, we came from construction work the whole day, it was hot. We had worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then we went back to the gym at 5 p.m. for training. We did not rest, after one and a half hours training, we ate a lot, then we went straight to sleep while tired and full. There were 12 or 13 of us. He died, he had blood on his ears and nose. I was 16 years old.
Do you remember his name?
Yes, he was Eddie Cadalso. That was 1995 when he died. It was at a gym in Malabon. Many of my companions wanted to quit boxing after that.
Was that your only encounter with death in boxing?
When I was 17, my other friend died in the boxing ring in Sampaloc, Manila, in Barangay Bomber. He fought ahead of me, I was supporting boxer and next. He fought and died, his name was Eugene Barotag. After that, many of my fellow young boxers quit. They said boxing is very dangerous.
You used to sell flowers, too?
Yes, I sold sampaguita and roses before I went into boxing and during my boxing days. Earlier as a kid in General Santos City, 11 or 12 years old, I was selling pandesal, doughnut and ice drop. Do you know what is an ice drop? I was already struggling as a kid. My whole life is full of struggles.
What was the most frightening experience in your life or boxing career?
I had a fight, very tough fight, it was so hot, like what happened to my friend who died boxing. I was given water to drink, it went to my nose, I felt like drowning. Luckily I got the water out, if not, I could have been dead. I won that fight. Even if my two boxer companions died, I never gave up. Other boxers were discouraged with those two deaths, they brought their bags and went back to their provinces. They said boxing is too dangerous. I told them I won’t quit, that I will continue to fight for my dreams, for our dreams.
What is your biggest fear?
Fear? Mapalayo sa Diyos (To be far away from God), because on this earth, we do not live forever, life is very short. If you die today, do you know if you will go to heaven or hell? Death is the beginning of eternity.
Who is your hero?
Jesus, because of the way he humbled himself. He didn’t usually get angry, he has no attitude problem. It is difficult if people have attitude problem, and they are usually bipolar. You can test attitude problem, if a person is stressed. It is important to control self.
Senator Imee Marcos said you told her you’re running for president because it is God’s will?
Of course, I had prayed to God and I was given signs by God. I believe this is destiny.