Philippines boxing icon Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao says he took all kinds of drugs as a teenager but fully supports President Rodrigo Duterte, whose vicious anti-drugs campaign has led to the killing of more than 3,000 people, mostly users and pushers, in three months.
Pacquiao, now a senator and a close ally of the president, also said 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 Pacquiao, 37, adding he was confident it wouldn’t 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.
Pacquiao said this phase lasted for years “before I became a champion”.
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. A total of 3,171 people have been killed since then, including users and pushers, nearly two thirds by unknown assailants and the rest in legitimate police operations, according to police.
The friendship between the boxer known as “The Destroyer” and the president known as “The Punisher” dates back at least 15 years as Pacquiao tells it, to a boxing ring in Davao, where 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 Pacquiao, a southpaw who has been an eight-division world champion. “He helped with the promotion, financially as well.”
Pacquiao has the initials of a group called Guardians Mindanao Brotherhood tattooed on his wrist, as does Duterte, according to media reports. “It’s a fraternity,” Pacquiao said.
Guardians Brotherhood started as a soldiers group that was later disbanded.
Pacquiao was born in the town of Kibawe in the Mindanao region of the southern Philippines, about 80 km (50 miles) from Davao city, where Duterte was mayor and congressman since 1988.
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Pacquiao’s family was dirt-poor, and, according to his autobiography, the family lived in a thatched hut. His father harvested coconuts and his mother sold peanuts.
Pacquiao did odd jobs to survive and stowed away on a boat to Manila as a teenager, where he started competitive boxing.