PACQUIAO WATCH: Winds of change have already blown

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 April) – Two years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a sitting president not to recognize or acknowledge the presence of Rep. Manny Pacquiao in a huge public event. In fact, during the heyday of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Pacquiao was a preferred guest and attraction, not only for his immense popularity but also as a convenient cover-up for then Malacañang’s many and grave shortcomings.

On Friday, members of the Philippine press noted the apparent snub he got from President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino during the Mindanao Energy Summit. Pacquiao came as an elected member of the House of Representatives representing one of the poorer provinces in Mindanao. He was there perfectly for and with a reason.

While Aquino failed to recognize him, Energy Secretary Rene Almendras broke protocol by recognizing Pacquiao’s presence ahead of the president’s speech.

There is no doubt the cold shoulder treatment Pacquiao got from the president stemmed from the boxing champion’s past association with Arroyo. And because both Pacquiao and Aquino have long memories, the animosity between them during the 2010 election, when the boxing champ coalesced with defeated presidential candidate Manny Villar, was still apparently in the air.

Pacquiao reportedly has set his sight at joining the Roxas wing of the Liberal Party early on when he was elected congressman. But in a political party where one’s loyalty to the leadership is a premium, his past association with former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza doomed his attempt to be in the good graces of the Liberal Party. (Pacquiao was a member of the Atienza wing of the Liberal Party that was ousted from the national leadership.)

Pacquiao, too, had political enmity with the Antoninos, who are closely allied with former senator Mar Roxas, president of the Liberal Party. One of Roxas’ trusted aides happens to be Liza Antonino, younger sister of General Santos City Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio who defeated him in the 2007 congressional race in the city. Pacquiao’s brother Rogelio (Roel), is reportedly running for congress representing the first district of South Cotabato (which includes General Santos), making the Pacquiaos political rivals again with the Antoninos who are again fielding long-time ally Rep. Pedro ‘Jun’ Acharon Jr.

Friday’s episode at the Waterfront Insular Hotel was therefore no ordinary lapse in protocol.

Now, Pacquiao is reportedly joining Vice President Jejomar Binay’s PDP-Laban. Pacquiao himself has issues with Binay who took several swipes against him in 2007 when the former endorsed Lito Lapid against Teddy Boy Locsin for the race in one of Makati’s congressional districts.

There are several factors, however, that favor Manny’s eventual entry into Binay’s party. First, Binay wants to get all the powerhouse and influential figures he could get to form a strong and full slate in the mid-term elections next year in order to build a political machinery for his 2016 presidential bid.

Second, Pacquiao’s congressional chief of staff and personal lawyer Franklin Gacal Jr is a long time PDP-Laban and a consistent political rival of the Antoninos.

Third, Manny is still a valuable political commodity even if he will run for governor of Sarangani next year. Pacquiao is virtually unbeatable at the moment. He could spend most of the campaign period campaigning for Binay’s senatorial slate.

For the first time since joining politics, Manny will be aligning himself with what is shaping up as an opposition to the administration.

The tables have now turned in as far as he is in the spectrum of national politics. How he will influence the 2013 senatorial elections will ultimately decide his fate in the 2016 senatorial race. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com)

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