Boxer-senator Manny Pacquiao faces the fight of his life – but it won’t be in the boxing ring. Allies of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte seem bent on knocking him out of contention for the 2022 presidential elections in favour of his daughter, Sara. Duterte’s palace aides have hatched a complicated plan for the highly popular leader to run as the vice-presidential candidate of the ruling PDP-Laban Party and give him “the leeway” to choose his presidential running mate. The aides have also specified that the running mate should be presidential daughter Sara, which would in effect enable Duterte – should the father-daughter team win next year – have a surrogate presidency through 43-year-old Sara. Under Philippine law, a president is only allowed to govern for one six-year term. “We believe that as vice-president, he can also be able to continue those reforms and continue on what he has started in his capacity as vice-president,” Duterte’s close aide Karlo Nograles, who sits as a member of PDP-Laban’s National Council, said in an ABS-CBN interview on Tuesday. He said this even though a Philippine vice-president has constitutionally no role except as a successor and requiring the president to put his running mate in the Cabinet is tantamount to imposing a condition. “The wisdom and the experience that he gained from his entire political career culminating in his presidency [would allow him to] offer so many solutions, guidance and wisdom” to the new president, Nograles added. Sara Duterte insists she won’t seek Philippines presidency. That hasn’t dimmed support A Duterte-Duterte tandem has been done by the family before, just like other Filipino political families, and with much success. In 2010, when Rodrigo Duterte could not run again as Davao City mayor due to constitutional term limits, he persuaded his daughter to run for mayor and he ran as her vice-mayor mate. They won. When Sara hit a court sheriff in 2011, she took a leave of absence and her father became “acting mayor” for months. There is no constitutional bar to stop this scenario from happening on the national level should Sara get elected president and have to take a leave of absence. Unverified reports are circulating in Mindanao that due to her health problems, other presidential contenders like Pacquiao and Senator Christopher “Bong” Go have surfaced. What gives those rumours legs is the fact that Sara has taken “medical leave” four times since 2016, and has needed to fly to Singapore for health check-ups. She took a three-week leave of absence starting July 1, 2016, the first day of her term; a 60-day medical leave starting July 19, 2019; an eight-day leave starting September 28, 2020; and a week’s leave when she flew to Singapore in April. Neither she nor her family has ever disclosed the medical reason for these absences. Politics is swinish in this country Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Despite this, Duterte’s chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo floated the idea of a Duterte-Duterte tandem in January this year – a scenario that will knock out Pacquiao from the political ring. Duterte had dismissed the idea and said in February that his daughter was “not running”. “I have really, really put my foot down,” he said. “I pity my daughter. Politics is swinish in this country.” Sara Duterte: First Daughter, city mayor, and president in waiting? This was a marked departure from a year ago, when political analyst Ramon Casiple said he spoke with Duterte and “our topic was his daughter”. “He really wanted her to run but she was hesitant,” Casiple told This Week in Asia on Tuesday. He said he was not told why the Davao City mayor was hesitant “but she might decide by June”. The analyst disagreed with the idea that two Dutertes running together would be a sure-win. He noted that politics in the Philippines always involved making alliances with parties from other regions. . “A south-south combination won’t win,” Casiple said, referring to the fact that both father and daughter have their political bases in the southern island of Mindanao, the least populous compared to Luzon island in the north, and the Visayan Islands in the centre. “That is why you get someone else from another party in another region so you can get more votes,” he said. Nograles, however, has dismissed such analysis. He said during the ABS-CBN interview that Duterte was “a very popular president” especially among overseas Filipino workers, and he could pull votes for his presidential running mate and help the latter “hit the ground running”. But he added that Duterte had not yet made up his mind about running himself. ‘The Rock’ and ‘Pac-Man’ for president? Sport mixes with politics As for Pacquiao, Nograles hinted that the boxer-politician could lose his post as “acting president” of PDP-Laban, since this did not “pass through the National Assembly” or vote of all members. Pacquiao, known by fans as “PacMan”, was handed the post by Senator Koko Pimentel when the latter stepped down as party president last year. The move to sideline Pacquiao began on Tuesday with the convening of the party National Council, despite Pacquiao’s objections that it did not have his approval. The Council consists of the top party officials led by its chairman, Duterte, who made it clear he had authorised the meeting. The Council approved two resolutions. First, it overwhelmingly backed Duterte as the party’s vice-presidential contender next year and authorised him to pick his presidential running mate. Second, it shelved the ousting of Pacquiao as party president and instead called for the convening this July 17 of the entire National Assembly to decide on the boxer’s political fate. Pacquiao’s allies inside the party immediately spoke out after the Council met on Tuesday. Party spokesman Ronwald Munsayac told reporters that Pacquiao’s “leadership remains strong. We’re in constant communication with our over 100,000 party members all over the country, they’re in the grass roots, and they continue to support him”. Munsayac expressed confidence that Pacquiao would not be removed “because of the support of our grass roots members”. He said that Pacquiao “respected” Duterte’s decision to call the meeting but he was also seeking to meet the president to clear the “misunderstanding”. How Manny Pacquiao went from scraping for food to scrapping for millions Munsayac, who chairs the party’s public relations committee, also told reporters that the presidential standard bearer next year “should belong to PDP-Laban”, effectively shutting the door to supporting a Sara run, since she was not a party member. He said: “Our advice to our members is: if we have a strong candidate from our party, why should we support a candidate from outside the party?” There was no immediate counter-jab from Pacquiao, who has been described as “the greatest southpaw fighter of all time”, and who even came up with his own signature knockout punch called the “Manila Ice”. Pacquiao’s Facebook and Twitter pages made no reference to his political woes. The last post on May 31 merely quoted Pacquiao as saying: “At Senate session. Another day’s work to serve our people. Happy Monday to all!” At Senate session. Another day’s work to serve our people. Happy Monday to all! pic.twitter.com/rPoxozC5hO — Manny Pacquiao (@MannyPacquiao) May 31, 2021 But on Wednesday, Pacquiao gave Duterte’s energy secretary Alfonso Cusi a public thumping. Cusi, also the party vice-chairman, had been busy manoeuvring to oust Pacquiao on Tuesday when Metro Manila was hit by hours-long power outages, despite Cusi’s previous commitment there would be none. “If I were the president, I would replace you,” Pacquiao said. Asked why Duterte might not support Pacquiao as his successor, Casiple put it bluntly: “I think he does not trust anyone except his family. That’s why he needs Sara.” The analyst said how Pacquiao handled this fight with Duterte could affect his political future.