Philippines probes Pacquiao for poll violations

MANILA, Feb 22, (Agencies): The Philippines’ election commission said Monday it would consider a complaint accusing boxing champion Manny Pacquiao of violating election regulations by promoting his upcoming fight in the thick of the campaign. It was the latest blow to Pacquiao’s bid for the Philippine Senate after he drew global condemnation last week for describing gay people as “worse than animals”. “The complaint will be discussed during the commission en banc meeting tomorrow (Tuesday),” Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Andres Bautista told AFP.

Bautista said Pacquiao’s promotion of his April fight with Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas was a “grey area”, given the cap on radio and television airtime for candidates during the 90-day campaign period that started this month. A rival senatorial candidate who has trailed Pacquiao in opinion polls, Walden Bello, filed the complaint against the boxing champion on Monday. The most recent poll by Social Weather Stations put Pacquiao in eighth place in the race for 12 Senate seats up for grabs in May. Bello said the poll body should determine whether Pacquiao’s television appearances to promote the Bradley fight should be counted against the 120-minute television airtime limit for the campaign. “We want to know if this violates the equal time rule because in our view, this will give overwhelmingly great hours to Pacquiao and put us at a tremendous disadvantage,” Bello told AFP. Should Comelec decide to count Pacquiao’s media blitz against his airtime limit, Bello suggested the boxer postpone the fight until after the elections.

Pacquiao’s Senate run is seen by his supporters and analysts as part of preparations for a possible presidential run. While revered in the boxing ring for winning world titles in an unprecedented eight divisions, Pacquiao’s political track record has been lacklustre. Pacquiao is notorious for his absences in parliament, where he represents his wife’s impoverished home province of Sarangani. In 2014 he attended only four congressional sessions and did not help pass a single law, with boxing training taking up most of his time. Pacquiao’s anti-gay slur cost him a lucrative endorsement deal with US sportswear brand Nike, which called his comments “abhorrent”. But Pacquiao, a conservative Christian, stood by his comments even as he apologised for offending the gay community. Pacquiao, 37, has not fought since losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr last May in the richest fight ever.

Pacquiao reportedly made more than $100 million for that fight, and is guaranteed $20 million to fight Bradley. Bello said he was not seeking Pacquiao’s disqualification as a senatorial candidate, but was asking the elections commission to take action on the complaint. “I imagine if they rule in our favor, which I believe they will, then they will have to tell Manny that he would have to comply with it,” Bello said, adding that if Pacquiao refuses to comply, disqualification from the election could be a logical outcome. Bello’s petition said that if the spirit and intent of the Fair Elections Act were to be strictly followed, then Pacquiao should be required to go on leave from his profession during the campaign period.

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