By Jerry Adlaw Correspondent
Has the People’s Champ turned into a chump?
Rep. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, once regarded as the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer, is facing charges of vote buying and serious physical injuries for mauling a barangay chairman who tried to stop him from distributing rice and cash to voters in General Santos City late Saturday night.
Pacquiao is seeking reelection as representative of the lone district of Sarangani province.
Alfredo Belgica, the barangay chairman of San Jose, was beaten almost to a pulp by Pacquiao and his bodyguards at 11 p.m. on Saturday. Belgica claimed that Pacquiao and his bodyguards ganged up on him when he confronted them for going house-to-house and distributing cash and goods to families in the barangay. The lawmaker and his group arrived in the barangay in a five-car convoy. Part of the convoy was a truck loaded with rice and various goods Pacquiao and his men gave out to families in the community.
During the melee, Pacquiao and his bodyguards were arrested by police authorities and brought to the General Santos City police command based at Camp Fermin Lira Jr. for investigation. However, Pacquiao’s lawyer, Geng Gacal, arrived at the police station and managed to squirrel him out of the camp before he could issue any statement. Gacal is running for councilor in General Santos City under the Peoples Champ Movement (PCM)-United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
Belgica, a member of the Achievement with Integrity Movement (AIM), a group affiliated with the Liberal Party (LP), said he was punched by Pacquiao and his bodyguards when he threatened to file charges against the lawmaker for buying votes. Although General Santos City is not part of Pacquiao’s constituency, witnesses said the lawmaker was in the city to campaign for his friend, councilor Ronnel Rivera, who is running for mayor against incumbent city mayor Darlene Antonio-Custodio. A witness said Rivera was with Pacquiao’s group when the mauling incident occurred.
Belgica, a supporter of Custodio, said he will not be dissuaded from filing charges against the Sarangani lawmaker. He said police authorities should not have allowed Pacquiao to leave the police station without first undergoing interrogation.
“Magsasampa ako ng kaso laban kay Congressman Pacquiao dahil sa ginawa nyang pambubugbog sa akin kasama ang kanyang mga bodyguards,” he told The Manila Times during his physical examination by policemen at the PNP laboratory in Camp Fermin Lira Jr.
Belgica suffered from contusions and bruises in the face and various parts of the body. He could barely speak when interviewed at the police camp. He was physically examined in the presence of Lulu Casabuena, the president of the Association of Barangay Captains.
Pacquiao and his PCM party had been accused of vote buying when he first ran for Congress.
On Friday, supporters of Pacquiao were also arrested for removing and tearing up campaign posters of AIM candidates but the lawmaker immediately bailed them out.
The boxing champ is not the only one in the family seeking an electoral post. His wife Jinkee is running for vice governor of Sarangani. She is the running-mate of incumbent Vice Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon. Pacquiao’s youngest sibling, Rogelio, is also seeking a seat the House of Representatives. Pacquiao’s PCM party and UNA fielded Rogelio as their congressional candidate for the first district of South Cotabato.