Senator and former boxing star Manny Pacquiao has hit out at President Duterte for not planting a Filipino flag on disputed islands in the South China Sea, after the sportsman was accused of having a “shallow” view on events.

In a rebuttal on Wednesday, Pacquiao stood by his original statement, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of failing to stand by his election promise on disputed territorial claims.

“I respect the president’s opinion but humbly disagree with his assessment of my understanding of foreign policy. I am a Filipino voicing out what needs to be said in defense of what has been adjudicated as rightfully ours,” he said, adding that he believed his opinion reflected the sentiment of most Filipinos and that the country should “stand strong in protecting our sovereign rights.” 

The former boxer had previously accused Duterte of going soft on territorial claims in the South China Sea. Pacquiao noted that when campaigning in 2016, Duterte said he would take a jet ski to the Spratly Islands and plant a Filipino flag there. “I felt it in my heart to vote for him because that’s the kind of president that we need; someone who will fight for our country,” he said, noting that Duterte had not followed through on his promises and claiming he was doing his best not to anger Beijing.

This saw Duterte advise Pacquiao to go “study” because of his “shallow” understanding of issues relating to the South China Sea and Manila’s dispute with China over the territory. 

The disputed water and the islands within it have overlapping claims from China, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Brunei, among others.

Duterte, who has frequently been accused of being too close to China, will see his presidency come to an end in June 2022 when his six-year term finishes. Last week, he suggested that his daughter Sara, the incumbent Mayor of Davao City, and Pacquiao were among his favorites to succeed him.

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