A world without Manny Pacquiao

The man who stepped out of the bus in Las Vegas “dapper in khaki slacks, dark coat and Kangol cap” is the one they call a working-class hero. He is one of Time Magazine’s most influential people, whose singing – roughly the same style and tone of the yearly penitential bible-reading popular among old women with spare skin hanging from their necks – made number one on the most wanted lists, and established Manny Pacquiao as a recording star.

His name has been linked to various large-breasted darlings of the entertainment industry. His daughter’s name (Queen Elizabeth) has generated the same national buzz as the naming of Barack Obama’s First Dog. He owns a cockfighting farm and a basketball team. His boxing shorts, weighed down with logos, are a testament to the marketability of a man who endorses socks, beer, telecommunications providers, karaoke mikes, muscle relaxants, sneakers, and the odd politician.

At the moment, there is a particularly eager congressman who is clambering up Team Pacquiao’s Porsche Cayenne Turbo by filing a House Resolution (No. 1112) to investigate the “profusion of advertisements” to prevent “sour disappointment” during Pacquiao fights when the “treat of watching a spectacular fight” is compromised.

His life has been immortalized in film, although the results of both box-office sales and critical reviews were hardly knockout material. Pop culture commentators have called him a folk hero, the boy born to a family of vegetable farmers who dropped out of elementary school at 12 to sell cigarettes on the streets. At 16 he was a professional boxer, and a world champion with a one-punch knockout before he was 20. He has five world titles, is on the brink – so say the bets on the table – of his sixth, and is in imminent danger of running again for Congress.

Pacquiao dedicates his fights to the Philippines. His is a heroism that drops the crime rates to nonexistent on the days of his fights, whose calloused fist has been a constant cushion against every threat to the national ego. Chip Tsao can call us a nation of servants, the World Bank may call us thieves, and Down Under we may be unhygienic, but in the end, a land that birthed the fastest fist in the east is one that can swagger with the best of them. Every indignant online forum has at least one foaming-mouthed patriot who denounces insults by a mantra of “We have Manny Pacquaio.”

This is myth made flesh: the poor man’s son who by dint of sheer hard work found his way to former US President Bill Clinton’s table at the Four Seasons Hotel. This is the Filipino Dream: the boy who never finished school now sending his sons to an international school to rub elbows with the sons of CEOs, whose mama still prays on her knees while he whips his fist in a boxing ring, whose atrocious English makes him Everyman.

Campbell once said, about John Wayne, that the moment he became a model for other people’s lives, he moved into the sphere of being mythologized – the person we see exists permanently in another sphere altogether. It is the condition of the god.

It is no surprise, in a nation that can’t hold on to a hero. Jun Lozada, whose name for a time reached the same mythic proportions of Christ on the cross, is now in jail, his few straggling supporters in government and civil society unable to raise enough indignation from the streets.

Major Ferdinand Marcelino, whose name became the one-time symbol of incorruptibility after he claimed to have refused millions of pesos-worth of bribery in the case of the Alabang Boys, has fallen off the national consciousness, his name little more than a footnote in the senatorial soap opera.

Joker Arroyo’s dragon has run out of brimstone, Aquino means a woman in a tightly-corseted gown shrieking “Deal or No Deal,” and the mustached Estrada of the hundred action films is now reduced to bragging of people who call out his name.

Pacquiao is real, media or no media, the belts that hang on his waist, and the worship in the eyes of the world is a fact of history. He cannot lose against Hatton today, his fate is tied too closely with that of this country. If he loses, this hero will be the man who will have lost it for the Philippines. It is only today I’ve wondered how it must be to be Manny Pacquiao. When he walks into the MGM Grand Arena today, with his people screaming themselves hoarse in his name, I wonder if he ever feels that he is drowning in other people’s dreams.

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Posted on May 2, 2009 under Sports and labeled ,,

One Response to “A world without Manny Pacquiao”

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