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Philippines election: Does Manny Pacquiao have support to deliver a knockout blow to his Presidential rivals?

The boxer inspired near-religious adulation for over two decades amongst his thousands of followers



By Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Thu 28 Apr 2022, 10:50 PM

Every time he stepped into the boxing ring, he carried the hopes of an entire nation with him. Fans responded with a rallying cry with every punch that he landed, and when he was hurt, they too felt his pain.

Manny Pacquiao inspired near-religious adulation for over two decades amongst his thousands of followers. Like a guitar that produces sounds by vibration, Pacquiao’s punches resonated proudly in the hearts of every Filipino.

One of the things that made him such a great fighter was that he was never afraid to confront any opponent. He engaged in some of the fiercest fights in boxing history and was famously called the ‘Mexican Slayer’ for his dominant wins against iconic Latin fighters like Eric Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez.

As the only boxer to hold world championships across four decades, from the 1990s to the 2020s, Pacquiao drew strong feelings of respect and devotion. The ‘Fighting Pride of the Philippines’ is also the only eight-division world champion in the history of boxing, where he has won twelve major world titles.

Pacquiao had an aura of invincibility that saw him win 62 of his 72 fights, most of them in a dominant fashion. Like most of the giants of the modern-day sport he was both feared and respected by his opponents. He was never short of confidence and backed it up with one stellar performance after another.

Ring of fire

At the age of 43, Pacquiao now enters a stage that is in stark contrast to the one that consumed the better part of his life. The modern-day political arena is a far cry from the hallowed boxing rung inside Madison Square Gardens or Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, where he destroyed the dreams of fighters who dared to challenge his extraordinary boxing skills.

In his bid to become President of the Philippines, a Southeast Asian country of over 8,000 islands and beautiful beaches, Pacquiao must confront the new challenges with even greater dexterity, for despite having received every conceivable boxing accolade and winning the hearts of millions, the qualifications to become a country’s head requires an extraordinary vision, character, and integrity.

Pacquiao understands that he faces the fight of a lifetime is on and over the next couple of weeks in the build-up to the May 9 general election, the charitable man from Sarangani province will hope to discover his destiny as a leader and will the millions who once idolized him, stand by their man till the very end.

Political slugfest

How often has a Presidential election assumed the significance of the one taking place in the Philippines, as the country seeks to vote for a worthy successor to incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, a reformist who initiated tax reforms, invested in infrastructure, and came down hard on criminals and drug users.

The question being asked by every Filipino is what agenda ll of the new head of state arms himself with. With each of the six candidates boasting unique personalities and coming from diverse backgrounds, votes might not be rationally cast.

Among the sextet that includes Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr, Panfilo Lacson, Leni Robredo, Leody de Guzman and Isko Moreno, Manny Pacquiao is the odd man out as he has no political pedigree or experience.

Early voting trends suggest that the boxing legend will need a miracle to win, but just as stranger things have happened in his boxing career, Pacquiao remains positive and will hope to take his chances, even if the odds are stacked against them.

Keeping the faith

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal. Nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” wrote Thomas Jefferson, the great American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, and philosopher.

Words of wisdom that ring true in the case of Manny Pacquiao, who for long has set his sights on becoming the political leader of his beloved Philippines.

He is a man who wants to serve his people before he serves himself. A man who stands true to his faith, family, and country. A man who has no personal agendas other than to be a model of consistency, righteousness, and honesty.

If ‘born again’ Christians were a significant factor in President George Bush’s re-election, Pacquiao can bank on a large turnout of voters driven by common religious convictions.

The Philippines has long been a bastion of Christianity in Asia, with over 86 million Filipinos, from a population of around 93 million practising the faith. This ranks the country the fifth highest in the world that has an estimated 2.2 billion Christians.

The Philippines is the only country in Asia in which Christianity is the national religion.

‘Born again’ numbers are rapidly growing in the Philippines, and Pacquiao, who is an ardent member of this sect, will receive substantial support from the group because of his religious leanings.

The many faces of Pacquiao

Like many Filipinos, Manny Pacquiao is multi-dimensional. Besides being a boxer, he is a talented singer, an actor, and a basketball player. He loves blurring the line between work and play.

Ok, so perhaps he’s not as great as Gary Valenciano or a Martin Nevera, but he sure can belt out a song. And like most Filipinos, he likes singing ballads.

Famously before his fight with Sugar Shane Mosley in 2011, Pacquiao sidestepped a training session to perform live in Las Vegas where he delivered a tight set featuring songs like a cover of John Lennon’s mega-hot ‘Imagine,’ the Mexican folk song ‘La Bamba, ‘Lahing Pinoy’ a patriotic Filipin song and the evergreen hit ‘Sometimes When We Toch,” made famous by Dan Hill.

Pacman is also a skilful basketball player and has featured in all-star games in the PBA (Philippine Basketball League) before a sell-out crowd.

While he may not boast a basketball resumé to rival his boxing career, he can hold his own playing as a guard.

Pacquiao is a man who clearly cuts across cultures and demographics and has even given it a shot on the silver screen.

In short, he has tried his hand at anything that interests him and has pulled it off heroically.

Playing politics

Pacquiao is not the first sportsperson to attempt crossing over into a political minefield, and he won’t be the last.

While iconic cricketer Imran Khan is perhaps the most famous sportsman to accomplish the feat when he became Prime Minister of Pakistan in August 2018, several others had successfully transitioned into politics, including Lord Sebastian Coe, who won four Olympic medals when he became Chairman of the British Olympic Association and Member of the House of Lords and Parliament.

Austrian-born American bodybuilder turned actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger began his political career when he was elected governor of California, the most populous state in North America, in 2003.

Other notable crossover sportspeople were mercurial Liberian football player George Weah who became the President of Liberia, Morocco’s famed athletic star Nawal El Moutawakel who is a Minister of Sport, and ex-Sri Lankan cricket Arjuna Ranatunga a Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation.

The verdict is awaited

Filipinos have always had a passion for sport and for preserving their heroes. The inspiration that flowed from Pacquiao gave hope to his people and resulted in a soulful connection with his accomplishments.

The fact that Pacquiao chose to live the boxing way when he could have lived an ordinary life has given him added status.

His sport is his legacy, and his innumerable accomplishments can be safely laminated. But will all that he has achieved earn his fan’s endorsement to make him the President?

We will find out on May 9.

People with a view

Khaleej Times conducted a poll through a cross-section of the UAE’s population to find out how the local Filipino voter views Pacquiao’s bid to become President.

Daisy Alcanta says that not all sports personalities can handle a Government post and contends that Pacquiao is ‘not the right candidate to run our nation.’

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Lawyer Barney Almazar agrees and points out that Filipino voters have evolved and no longer vote based on a candidate’s popularity. ‘We vote because we believe that the candidate is qualified and is the best person to stop the bleeding nation,’ he says.

Reyschiel Pastrana is of the opinion that even though Pacquiao has brought pride to the country through his boxing career, she thinks the Filipino people would rather choose someone who has more political experience to become the next President, while Professor Dr Rommell Sergio argues that sportsmen who enter into politics do well because they are able to get to the heart of people.

‘Pacquiao is a clean man who is well admired and deserves a chance,’ he says


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