MANILA (REUTERS) - Boxing icon Manny Pacquiao vowed on Friday (Feb 4) that if he is elected as Philippines president, he would strengthen efforts to recover billions of dollars of wealth missing since the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, as part of his anti-graft platform.
Mr Pacquiao's comments are a jab at rival and early favourite Ferdinand Marcos Jr, whose family was accused of plundering an estimated US$10 billion (S$13.4 billion) during his late father's opulent two-decade rule, spending it on jewellery, real estate and scores of artworks including those of Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.
Mr Pacquiao said the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which recouped US$3.41 billion of wealth from the Marcoses and their associates in 33 years, would be empowered to recover more if he wins the May 9 election.
"We will strengthen the PCGG and the money that belongs to the government should be given to the government," Mr Pacquiao told a forum of presidential candidates, from which Mr Marcos, better known as "Bongbong", was absent citing a schedule conflict.
"The reason why our country is poor is because of thieves in government and that is why we need to eradicate corruption," said Mr Pacquiao, a senator and former eight-division champion.
The Marcos campaign team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a Jan 25 radio interview, Mr Marcos acknowledged court judgments against the family regarding assets and said it would respect the law and court decisions.
Like Mr Pacquiao, other presidential contenders, Vice-President Leni Robredo, Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, Senator Panfilo Lacson and labour leader Leody de Guzman, all pledged to root out government graft and protect public money.
Despite being overthrown in a 1986 revolt and driven into exile, the Marcos family remains a powerful force in the Philippines, with loyalists throughout the bureaucracy and political and business elite.
The family returned to the Philippines in the 1990s and the Marcoses have held political office ever since, including as governors, members of Congress and senators.