Philippine boxing icon turned presidential candidate Manny Pacquiao vowed Friday to protect Filipino fishermen from being "bullied" by Chinese coastguards in the disputed South China Sea if elected president.
Pacquiao said that he would deploy navy ships to the disputed area of the sea, where Chinese coastguard vessels have repeatedly harassed and driven away Filipino fishermen, if he won the presidency in the May 9 election.
Pacquiao also expressed his admiration for the Philippines' relationship with the United States, a country he referred to as "our best friend."
The retired boxer is trailing in fourth place at 6 percent in the presidential survey conducted by Pulse Asia, well behind Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is leading with 56 percent. Marcos is the son and namesake of the country's late dictator.
"I am fighting to fight for the country's future, especially for the poor. I and my supporters will not be disheartened. We will continue to knock on every door, community, town, and province to share our plans in alleviating our country from poverty," he said at a press conference.
China claims much of the South China Sea as its own, including the stretch of water in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, that extends 200 nautical miles from its coast.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016. But the verdict has had little impact on China's behavior, with Beijing continuing to pursue its claims to vast swathes of the sea based on its so-called "nine-dash line."
But President Rodrigo Duterte said in May last year that the country's arbitral victory against China's claims at The Hague was nothing more than just "a piece of paper" that he would throw away in a trash bin due to its futility.