On the day this column comes out, we will know whether or not Manny Pacquiao will win what has been called “The Fight of the Century” against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
I cross my fingers for Pacquiao, probably for the first time ever, as I’ve never been one to watch his fights while it happens. Half the time it’s because I am confident he will win—a product of years spent with boxing trainers who take the time to explain why Pacquiao will win against another boxer. The other half a matter of knowing that so many things are more important than a Pacquiao fight.
The latter is of course bound to the state of the nation. But also it is bound to an amount of dismay at how Pacquiao has turned out, not content with being the most famous and credible Filipino athlete, but finding the need to go try a career as artista (singer, TV host, actor), and as politico.
Pacquiao’s icon deserves better than to be tainted with being a wannabe artista and a useless politico, don’t you think?
Win: the Pacquiao story
Pacquiao’s story is not new for a country like the Philippines. The narrative of “coming from nothing” and “becoming something” as he now talks about his life, is the story of every singer who joined barangay singing contests until finally winning a big enough TV competition to give them a career. It is also in the every-artista discovered from the slums—basurero, kargador, name it, we’ve got an artista whose life started from that kind of nothing.
This life of “nothing” is of course the life of the majority of impoverished Filipinos, who know only of need and want, and who live as marginalized: they are poor because uneducated because unemployed, therefore growing poorer by the day. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence that is an evil cycle, one that has not been broken by any government.
That is why icons like Pacquiao are valuable to a nation like ours. His rise to success, as he has often said, is one that inspires others, and it is hoped that it might push others not to waste opportunities, to do well and better with whatever’s dealt them.
Of course the Pacquiao story of success is a rarity. And in that sense, at the very least, Pacquiao provides a reprieve from the more difficult life the every-Pinoy lives.
Lose: the celebrity Pacquiao
Pacquiao could have been our Michael Jordan, that homegrown boxer turned global iconic athlete. He could’ve spent time and energy building training camps and schools, to provide local boxers from all over the country with the best free training possible. He could’ve nurtured the new Pacquiaos, made the Philippines known for having the best boxers in Asia, if not the world.
He could’ve become the Pinoy athlete to emulate, smart and disciplined about his sport, without the yabang and trappings that go with it.
But it seems this trajectory was never an option for Pacquiao. Because it became clear that it was the trap of celebrity that he had fallen into. He started being endorser for every product imaginable, from milk (which he sold with his mother) to a beauty clinic (which he sold with his wife), from deodorant to car batteries, from sports wear to pizza. He did a TV show and a movie, got to record a CD, got embroiled in a tabloid controversy about an extra-marital affair. Decided to be playing coach of a professional basketball team. His mother is a running joke that isn’t funny.
Pacquiao also became politician, and is currently congressman of Sarangani; his wife is vice governor of Sarangani and fashionista wearing designer outfits anywhere she goes.
In Los Angeles to train for today’s fight, Pacquiao gave the media a tour of the mansion that he was buying. Previously owned by Jennifer Lopez.
At around that time the news from Sarangani showed dry lands and dead crops: El Niño had destroyed 2,400 hectares of land, its mayor was thinking of declaring a State of Calamity.
Win or Lose: deserving Pacquiao
It cannot simply be Pacquiao’s fault. There is a sense that he’s actually been ill-advised all this time, maybe taken advantage of too, by the people around him. Politicos know of the value of having Pacquiao on their side; one hopes Pacquiao knows how his credibility is affected when we see him with the Chavit Singsons of this world.
The media is also to blame. There is no sense of objectivity when Pacquiao is the subject of their story; they paint Pacquiao as someone who can do no wrong because he is reason for Pinoy pride. This is how we ruin icons in this country. This is how we create sacred cows.
One still hopes that Pacquiao could be that icon who can make the masses think about what has kept them impoverished, an icon who can demand of government to do better than it has at providing for nation.
One hopes he (and his family) stops with politics, because he can affect real change without being tainted by the label of politico.
But alas, at the press con for the Maweather-Pacquiao fight, fans carried Philippine flags with Pacquiao For Senator on it. Alas, it seems there is no stopping this delusion, though one hopes that the new-found faith in God might teach him to be humble enough to admit that politics is not for him.
The chances of that are slim of course. One realizes that given Pacquiao’s wins and losses, this country only gets the heroes it deserves.