Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, a Filipino senator and boxing champion, was voted out as the country’s ruling party’s head on Saturday, weeks after publicly criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on China and anti-corruption record.
Pacquiao, 42, is considered as a possible successor to Duterte in next year’s presidential election. He has long been one of the president’s most ardent fans, supporting his violent drug campaign and bid to reinstate the death penalty.
However, their relationship deteriorated last month after Pacquiao slammed Duterte’s moderate attitude on Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea and claimed he was investigating bribery in the administration.
At a National Assembly meeting on Saturday, a section of the ruling democratic party led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, a close supporter of Duterte, called for the vote. Cusi was elected as the party’s leader.
The ballot was held since incumbent officials had already served their two-year term limits, according to Melvin Matibag, the party’s deputy secretary general.
In a speech to the assembly, Duterte, who remains chairman, claimed the party was “as powerful as ever and… unified in further solidifying our ranks until the end of my term and beyond.”
Duterte stated that he could run for vice president multiple times to gain immunity from political opponents’ lawsuits. Political vendettas are widespread in the Philippines, and previous leaders have been punished and even imprisoned after changing governments.
The party should focus on limiting the spread of the highly dangerous Delta coronavirus type, Pacquiao stated in a statement.
The eight-division champion is in the United States to prepare for a welterweight title fight, but he has yet to declare his candidacy for president. In December, he was sworn in as the party’s president.