Manny Pacquiao, the senator
Manny Pacquiao is one the five new faces in the Philippine Senate. He joins the ranks of Joel Villanueva, Risa Hontiveros, Win Gatchalian, and Leila de Lima, each of whom banks not just on platforms but significant experience in government, too.
Villanueva, who intends to focus on jobs and education, was TESDA Secretary General. Hontiveros, before joining PhilHealth, was an Akbayan representative. Gatchalian was, for 15 years, mayor and congressman of Valenzuela. Leila de Lima moves to the Senate from her immediate post as Secretary of Justice. Experience informs their advocacies, many of which are predictable and also necessary: jobs, education, public health, human rights, and justice.
Manny Pacquiao's record pales in comparison.
Hands down, he enjoys a sterling reputation as a boxing champion and it might take some time for any Filipino to match his achievements. But like his singing and acting, his performance as Sarangani representative has been rather off-key.
He became notorious for his perennial absence, for example. Attendance, if only to meet the quorum, matters in the House of Representatives. If Congress were like any typical class, he would have been a dropout long ago. In 2012, in a rare moment when he took the podium, he rejected the RH Bill using religious reasoning that conveniently evaded the nuances of the proposed law. His religious convictions, while commendable at times especially in relation to his conversion, have also become a convenient excuse for his irresponsible and ill-informed views about the LGBT.
Overall, without any solid legislative accomplishment, his performance in Congress has been characterized as "underachieving." Whoever said that was simply being polite.
In other words, while he may have received enough support to place him in the Magic 12 in this year's elections, others cannot take him seriously as a legislator. It is for this reason that while many people voted for Senator Pacquiao, he is the target of ridicule on social media. A meme, for example, shows him promising to create jobs: "left job, right job, job straight, job job." To be ridiculed in this manner must be below the belt.
Manny Pacquiao's win does not come as a surprise. Among all other candidates, he enjoyed the highest awareness rating at the start of the year. Voters from Visayas and Mindanao, rural areas, and class E constitute his support base. Pacquiao, an Evangelical Christian, also received precious support from the Iglesia ni Cristo.
Given such a demographic profile, his supporters might also bear the brunt of elitist judgment. He and his supporters have been accused of "stupidity."
But reinforcing this view is a mistake. It turns a blind eye to the reality of social divisions in the country.
One does not need to be a lawyer or an honor graduate to become a good senator. Eloquence, the mark of elitism in our country, must not even be a criterion. As a venue where the law of the land is deliberated, the Senate needs to welcome a broad segment of legislators. Only then can national welfare be genuinely discerned.
It is for this reason that while Manny Pacquiao's credibility is in question among technocrats, legal experts, and perhaps the middle class, too, he in fact brings with him a unique experience that inspires the rest of the population. Like the new president, he is from Mindanao and poverty was never too high an obstacle for him. That he overthrew no less than a dynasty when he first ran as Sarangani representative in 2010 is also very telling.
Manny Pacquiao is one of the five first-time senators of the land. But here is the sad reality: Unlike the four other novices, he carries with him neither a solid legislative agenda nor a set of stellar congressional accomplishments. Not many people are very hopeful.
He now needs to confront a basic question: What exactly does he want to accomplish? Slogans – inspirational, religious, and what not – do not count.
The Philippine Senate is inherently a space for contradictions and contestations. Such is the nature of democracy. But although too late at times, it is worth being reminded that it cannot be a place for folly. The Senate is funded by taxpayers' money and it produces laws that affect all of us.
For it to be a laughingstock of the nation is too costly a joke. Senator Pacquiao must realize this. He must man up. – Rappler.com
Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, PhD is a sociologist and the director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is one of the investigators on Vote of the Poor 2016, an ongoing study funded by the Institute of Philippine Culture. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio (https://twitter.com/jayeel_cornelio).