Pacman Image Credit: AP

Manila: It's confirmed. Philippine Senator and boxing legend Manny "Pac-Man" Pacquiao will run for president in the May 2022 general elections, according to his spokesperson and political adviser.

"Bahala na kung sinong [ibang] tatakbo (It doesn't matter who else are running) but Manny Pacman Pacquiao is going to run for President… he will file his candidacy," former Bacolod Mayor and Congressman Monico Puentevella told CNN Philippines on Friday.

Before the 2022 presidential rumble, the eight-division world champion and beloved national hero will have tens of millions of fans from the boxing-mad archipelago in his corner when he faces American Errol Spence in Las Vegas on August 21, 2021.

Puentevella said Pacquiao requested him to speak on his behalf when it comes to political issues so the boxer-turned-lawmaker could focus on preparing for his August title match against Spence.

Pacquiao's comeback fight is a chance to prove his mettle at 42 —  an age when most boxers have already hung up their gloves — and score a lucrative payday before a widely expected tilt at the presidency next year.

If Pac-Man is elected President, Spence could be Pacquiao's last fight in the boxing ring, according to Puentevella, who also serves as one of the boxing legend's long-time political advisers. He added that they "were already working on his candidacy" before Pacquiao left for the US on July 3.

Pacquiao's star power in a country famed for its celebrity-obsessed politics would put him in a strong position in the presidential race. "I'm a politician, all politicians are dreaming for the higher position," the elected senator told AFP in his southern hometown of General Santos, where he is training.

But it would not guarantee victory. A public skirmish between Pacquiao and President Rodrigo Duterte over the latter's handling of the South China Sea dispute with Beijing and official graft could erode support for the boxer.

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Duterte - who is allowed to serve only one term as president - rivals Pacquiao for the affections of many Filipinos and has even flagged a possible run for the vice presidency in 2022.

Until recently, Pacquiao was a high-profile backer of Duterte and his controversial drug war, which International Criminal Court prosecutors want to investigate for the alleged unlawful killing of possibly tens of thousands of people. Pacquiao told AFP he would continue the crackdown, but in a "proper way" that does not abuse "the rights of individuals".

'Idol of everyone'

Pacquiao is deeply admired in the Philippines for his generosity and hauling himself out of poverty to become one of the world's greatest and wealthiest boxers.

Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao during a training session at his gym in the city of General Santos in southern island of Mindanao. Image Credit: AFP

Dozens of locals wait outside his gym in downtown General Santos in the hope of catching a glimpse of the rags-to-riches hero — and receiving some money — before he climbs into an olive green Hummer to drive back to his manicured compound.

"Pacquiao is the idol of everyone in this city," said Meme Dipundato, a 40-year-old tricycle driver. "What I really like about Pacquiao is not his boxing but his act of helping the poor."

But the fighter has stirred controversy since entering politics in 2010 — first as a congressman and then a more high-profile position in the Senate — supporting the death penalty and describing gay couples as "worse than animals".

He promises to pull no punches if he were to become president - starting with sending "hundreds or thousands" of crooked politicians to a purpose-built "mega prison".

"There are so many problems in this country caused by corruption... there's no economic growth and development, there's no improvement," he said.