MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Boxing great Manny Pacquiao was proclaimed Thursday as a winner of a Philippine Senate seat, bringing him closer to a possible crack at the presidency.
At the proclamation ceremony, an elections commissioner introduced Pacquiao as the "people's champion" and called out his name in the same slow style that he is introduced in his world-famous bouts, drawing cheers from the audience.
The Filipino slugger garnered more than 16 million votes, landing 7th among 12 new members of the Senate, a traditional springboard to the presidency. Earlier this year, he said that he planned to retire from boxing to become a full-time politician.
Asked by The Associated Press if his next target is the presidency, Pacquiao smiled, then said, "Nothing, nothing, nothing" as he rode into his black Cadillac SUV after his proclamation.
Considered a hero in the country, which grinds to a halt during his televised fights to watch him box, Pacquiao has indicated in the past he would consider a run for the presidency. But he has often tried to ditch the topic, saying he was too young.
The Philippine Constitution requires presidential candidates to be at least 40 years old. The 37-year-old boxer would be eligible to run in the next presidential election in 2022.
Pacquiao's Senate victory is the latest chapter in his stunning rags-to-riches story. He came from an impoverished rural family and had worked odd jobs before lacing up the gloves at the age of 12. He rose steadily and became a champion in eight boxing divisions to become one of the world's most celebrated and wealthiest athletes.
He has represented southern Sarangani province in the House of Representatives since May 2010, though he has been criticized for seldom showing up for legislative duties due to his preoccupation with boxing and is still regarded a political lightweight.
He told reporters he was still thinking whether to participate in the Olympics in August because he might be criticized again for being absent from the Senate. "I need to ask if the Filipino people will allow me to participate in the Olympics," he said.
Pacquiao said he would support the proposal by the crime-busting president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, to re-impose the death penalty. That comment from the newly religious Pacquiao differs from the opposition of the country's dominant Roman Catholic church. He added he would oppose any proposed divorce bill.
In a populist stance, he said the first bill he would file would grant free elementary-to-college education for children from poor families, a proposal that has not been realized in the past due to the extensive costs it would entail. More than a fourth of the more than 100 million Filipinos are considered poor.
Pacquiao ran for the Senate under the ticket of losing presidential candidate Jejomar Binay, but also was endorsed by Duterte.
During his senatorial campaign, Pacquiao bounced back impressively after a huge drop in support from his remarks in February that people in same-sex relations are "worse than animals." He apologized to people hurt by his comments but made clear he opposed same-sex marriage.
President Benigno Aquino III revealed in April that the brutal Abu Sayyaf militant group considered abducting Pacquiao, along with the president's sister, who is a wealthy and popular actress. Despite the warning, Pacquiao continued to openly campaign in the south region where the militants are based.
Associated Press journalists Teresa Cerojano, Joeal Calupitan and Alberto "Bullit" Marquez contributed to this report.