Manny Pacquiao may never have become a superstar boxer and cultural icon whose charity and good works changed the lives of countless of his countrymen if his nation’s current policy against drugs had been in place while he was a teenager experimenting with drugs.
Pacquiao, who has tried to juggle his duties as a politician while training to fight Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight title on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas, recently told reporters in the Philippines that in an earlier time in his life, he used drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in May on a strong anti-crime, anti-drugs platform, and Pacquiao has become a close ally and supporter. Since Duterte’s inauguration in June, police, at the new President’s directive, have killed several thousand drug pushers and users.
The focus is on stopping the flow and distribution of drugs into the country which is an acute problem in the Philippines. Pacquiao said crime is down and tourism is up since the crackdown.
But because of the indiscriminate way the killings have occurred, some drug users have been caught up in the sweeps and killed in addition to the distributors, the intended target.
Thus, a teenaged drug user like Pacquiao used to be could lose his life as essentially collateral damage.
Pacquiao, in his first term as a member of the Philippines Senate after two terms as a member of the House of Representatives, spoke to reporters in Hollywood on Wednesday about his upcoming fight with Vargas and about national and international affairs.
He mostly offered mundane answers to questions about his work in the Senate. He recounted his 14-hour days, which means arising early to run, going to the capital to perform his senatorial duties and then heading to the gym to train for the fight.
“I used to have time for my friends,” he said, sounding wistful.
Pacquiao has spoken out against government corruption, a dangerous stance to take in a country where the politics are often violent.
He told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that the police killings are supposed to target only dealers, not users, and that he supports an action that would investigate these additional killings.
He’s sponsored or co-sponsored 17 bills since his June inauguration, most of them benign things such as a billboard regulation act and a SIM card registration act.
He’s also pushed legislation that would give new mothers 180 days of maternity leave benefits.
Most controversial, though, have been his proposals to reinstate the death penalty. Pacquiao supports the death penalty in four cases: drug pushing, kidnapping with a demand for ransom, robbery in which a murder occurs and rape in which a murder occurs.
The death penalty is an option for murder in many countries, but it is unusual for pushing drugs.
Pacquiao defended his position by saying the flow of drugs into the Philippines from Asia and the rest of the world is creating an emergency situation in his country.
“Last week, before we left to come [to the U.S.], there was a Brazilian bringing drugs to our country, [$2.4 million in U.S. dollars] worth of cocaine. They think that [they can do it] because in the Philippines, we don’t have the death penalty. [I think it is] better to restore the death penalty, which in our law, in the constitution of the Philippines is legal.
“The people [who are] saying it’s against the law of God, I told them, I explained properly, it’s not against the law of God and it’s not against the constitution. It’s not against the law. The law says not to impose any cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment and no death penalty should be imposed unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes. We consider drugs a heinous crime.”
He’ll undoubtedly have a battle on his hands to push the legislation through and make it the law of the land.
The question, though, for his fans is what will become of his boxing career. His senate duties are full-time and it’s hard to imagine he can keep up this pace much longer.
He’ll turn 38 in six weeks. To beat a fighter of Vargas’ caliber and win a world championship would be an amazing accomplishment in any circumstance, but doing so while training part time may top Pacquiao’s many extraordinary athletic feats.
Pacquiao un-retired only a few months after his win over Timothy Bradley Jr. in April, saying he still had the urge to compete. So he decided to fight Vargas for the belt he once held, fitting in his training around his political duties. He insists he means no disrespect to Vargas, but it’s hard to imagine him fighting say, Floyd Mayweather, under the same circumstances.
In the lead up to the fight, trainer Freddie Roach has been dismissive of Vargas, who is 27-1 with 10 knockouts.
“I haven’t watched much of Jessie Vargas,” Roach said on Top Rank TV with Crystina Poncher. “He’s [expletive] boring to watch. I’m not impressed. I know he can come forward and be aggressive. But I feel once Manny hits him and he feels Manny’s power, he’ll go the other way, and that will make it a little more difficult for us to knock him out.
“The thing is, we can only guess on what is going to happen, but my fighter is 100 percent ready for this fight. I think you’re going to be really happy with the performance you see in this one.”
That’s the normal pre-fight hyperbole you’d expect, particularly coming from someone who has a vested interest in selling more tickets and more pay-per-views.
But so many times Pacquiao has astounded his critics, pulling off the unthinkable, at one point going from a flyweight world champion to a super welterweight world champion.
It’s hard to imagine he’s going to be able to keep up this grind. It’s an incredible challenge, among the greatest he ever faced and he’s in the age group where few boxers can last even with no other responsibilities other than training and fighting.
He estimated Wednesday that he’s given away $100 million Filipino of his own money to his countrymen, and he’s fighting because in order to keep that welfare system going, he needs the big paychecks he can get only in boxing.
“I want to prove that I am still one of the best pound-for-pound fighters,” he said. “I feel I still have a lot to prove. I am not done with boxing. I will continue to keep fighting as long as I love boxing and boxing still loves me. I do not feel old. I feel like I am still 27.”
He’s 37, though, soon to be 38, and boxing has a long history of cruelty to its senior citizens.
Pacquiao said he’s not done with boxing, but we’ll find out on Nov. 5 if boxing is done with him.
If his senatorial duties have distracted him even a little, that will be exposed in the ring at the Thomas & Mack Center next week when he fights Vargas.
At his age, and with his responsibilities, each time could be the last time.
Appreciate him while you have him.