© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Philippine senator and boxer Manny Pacquiao speaks during Secretary of the Environment Regina Lopez’s Congressional confirmation hearing at the Senate in Manila, the Philippines on May 2, 2017. REUTERS / Erik De Castro / Photo by File / Stock Photo
MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine senator and boxing star Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao was elected leader of the country’s ruling party on Saturday, weeks after challenging President Rodrigo Duterte for his position on China and his record in fighting China. corruption.
Pacquiao, 42, who is seen as a possible contender to succeed Duterte in next year’s presidential election, had long been among the president’s staunchest supporters, backing his bloody war on drugs and his bid to reintroduce the death penalty.
But ties between them soured last month after Pacquiao criticized what he called Duterte’s soft stance on Beijing’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea, and said he was investigating government corruption.
A faction of the ruling Democratic Party led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, a close ally of Duterte, called for the vote at a meeting of the National Assembly on Saturday. Cusi was elected president of the party.
The vote was conducted because existing officials had already exceeded their two-year term limit, Melvin Matibag, the party’s deputy secretary-general, told reporters.
Duterte, who remains president, said in a speech to the assembly that the party was as “strong as ever and … united to further consolidate our ranks until the end of my term and beyond.”
Pacquiao said in a statement that the party should focus on preventing the spread of the most contagious variant of the Delta coronavirus. “If Cusi and others think politics is more important now, that’s up to them.”
The eight-division champion is in the United States to train for a welterweight title bout and has yet to announce his presidential bid. He was sworn in as party president in December.
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