The Destroyer sings The Punisher's praises

Senator and boxing champion Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao training in the Elorde gym in metro Manila on Wednesday, in preparation for his bout with Jessie Vargas on Nov 5 in Las Vegas. Mr Pacquiao says his friendship with President Duterte dates back at le
Senator and boxing champion Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao training in the Elorde gym in metro Manila on Wednesday, in preparation for his bout with Jessie Vargas on Nov 5 in Las Vegas. Mr Pacquiao says his friendship with President Duterte dates back at least 15 years, when Mr Duterte sponsored one of his fights.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA • Philippine boxing icon Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao has said he took all kinds of drugs as a teenager but fully supports President Rodrigo Duterte, whose anti-drug campaign has led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people, mostly users and pushers, in three months.

Mr Pacquiao, now a senator and a close ally of the President's, also said Mr Duterte was anointed by God to discipline the Filipino people and his authority must be respected.

"The President, he doesn't know my experience with drugs," said Mr Pacquiao, 37, adding he was confident it would not damage their close relationship.

"He always gives a chance to people who want to be changed," said the boxer-turned-lawmaker in an interview in his Senate office.

"I tried drugs... many kinds of drugs, all kinds of drugs," he said, dressed in the traditional white Filipino barong shirt and trousers.

Mr Pacquiao said this phase lasted for years "before I became a champion".

Mr Duterte, who took office on June 30, has made the war on drugs the central part of his presidency, saying narcotics are destroying the nation of 100 million people.

The friendship between the boxer known as "The Destroyer" and the President known as "The Punisher" dates back at least 15 years, as Mr Pacquiao tells it, to a boxing ring in Davao where Mr Duterte helped organise one of his fights.

"He helped me a lot. He helped me with the promotion when I started in boxing. One of my fights held in Davao, he sponsored it," said Mr Pacquiao, a southpaw who has been an eight-division world champion.

Dismissing the popular perception that Mr Duterte was foul- mouthed and aggressive, Mr Pacquiao described the President - whom he calls by the nickname Digong, a play on his first name, Rodrigo - as respectful, hospitable and friendly.

According to media reports, Mr Pacquiao has the initials of a group called Guardians Mindanao Brotherhood tattooed on his wrist, as does Mr Duterte. "It's a fraternity," the senator said. Guardians Brotherhood started as a soldiers' group that was later disbanded.

Mr Pacquiao was born to a dirt-poor family in the town of Kibawe in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines. According to his autobiography, his father harvested coconuts and his mother sold peanuts.

The boxer did odd jobs to survive and stowed away on a boat to Manila as a teenager, where he started competitive boxing.

According to Forbes, he has earned US$500 million (S$680 million) from purses, pay-per-view and endorsements so far in his career.

To Mr Pacquiao, Mr Duterte is doing nothing wrong.

"In the past administrations, people didn't respect the law, the leader, the authorities," he said. "What Duterte is trying to do is let the people know - and put it in their hearts and minds - that you need to respect the law of the land."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'The Destroyer sings The Punisher's praises'. Print Edition | Subscribe