KUALA LUMPUR: Politician and pugilist Manny Pacquiao’s slugfest is the big draw – but there is a more diplomatic meeting planned for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to greet tough-talking Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte here.
Nicknamed “The Punisher” for the way he has managed the war on drugs in his country since taking office in 2016, Duterte is said to be looking forward to the meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Putrajaya.
Dr Mahathir, who turned 93 last week, will receive the president at his office, having also met Pacquiao on Thursday.
The run-up to the meeting between both leaders begins this morning as they take their ringside seats at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil to watch Pacquiao take on Argentina’s WBA world welterweight title holder Lucas Mattthysse.
The event will be extra significant for Duterte as it is said that no sitting Philippine president has ever watched a Pacquiao match live.
Duterte, who raised eyebrows around the world with his support for the extra-judicial killings of drug users and criminals in his country, spoke on the telephone with Dr Mahathir before the start of the Cabinet meeting in Manila earlier this week to express his desire to discuss the Philippine insurgency issue and the terrorism threat.
The president was last here on a state visit in November 2016 when the multinational effort to counter piracy in the Straits of Malacca and the kidnapping and terror activities of the Abu Sayyaf terror group were high on the agenda.
On Friday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Cayetano met Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah here to pave the way for their leaders’ get-together.
On his part, Pacquiao, a Philippine senator who has won 11 major world titles, met Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman on Thursday to provide tips on sports development.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Charles C. Jose said everything was set for the big fight, and also for the first official Mahathir-Duterte meeting.
“While we have been busy promoting the big fight, we also hope to take the opportunity to bring relations between our countries to a new high.
“There is a big difference in Malaysia with a new government and new Prime Minister in charge,” he said to The Star.
The embassy is also making plans for Duterte to meet sections of the large Filipino community based here who have been doing their part to promote the Pacquiao-Mattthysse fight.
Filipino Business Council in Malaysia committee member Gina Frias said promotion counters were set up at various locations, including the Kota Raya shopping mall here, to help sell tickets.
She said ringside seats for the fight, priced at US$5,000 (RM20,000), had been sold out.
Frias said that with most being tickets too expensive for Filipino workers here, Pacquiao had offered lower priced tickets of RM250 to the community.
“We are grateful to the senator, who has proven to be a people’s champion. There are 35 Filipino organisations in Malaysia and all have been doing their bit to help promote the fight,’’ she added.
Philippine tourism official Datuk Melissa Ong said one aim was for the big fight to spark interest among Malaysians to sign up for the “Pacman Tour” to the boxer’s home city of Mindanao in southern Philippines.
“It is an exciting journey for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with Pacquiao through a tour, which will include a walk in the streets where he sold pandesal (Filipino bread rolls) when he was young, a visit to his first home, the gym where he trains and see the church that he is now building.
“One would be amazed to see how God has touched his life,’’ she added.
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