MANILA: The Philippine presidency on Sunday hailed the latest victory of boxing idol Manny Pacquiao, comparing his resolve to its own bloody and controversial war on drugs.
Pacquiao, 37, reclaimed the World Boxing Organization welterweight title for the third time with a unanimous decision victory over former champion Jesse Vargas in a comeback fight in Las Vegas.
As with previous Pacquiao fights, the match was broadcast on large screens in public plazas and malls so the public could see their hero in action.
“Once again, Manny’s triumph united and brought joy to our people and our nation,” a palace statement said.
“The courage and grit displayed by our Filipino boxers in Las Vegas are the same qualities we must demonstrate as a nation to rid society of drugs, criminality and corruption,” it said.
“Government has been successfully waging a war on these fronts and we as a people — emulating our boxers’ toughness against all odds — must continue the strong gains as we battle towards victory.”
Pacquiao, who parlayed his sporting fame to secure election to the Senate in May, endorsed President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has left more than 3,700 people dead in four months and has been condemned by human rights groups and foreign countries.
The boxer admitted in September that he himself indulged in illegal drugs when he was an impoverished teenager.
Over the years Pacquiao has galvanised the nation, rising from poverty to win eight world championships, then amassing a fortune in commercial endorsements before going into politics.
But the crowds watching the match with Vargas seemed thinner this time in contrast to other fights when the entire nation seemed to shut down.
“There was still a lot of people, just not as many as before,” said construction worker and longtime fan Efran Bagaporo, 49.
He was among the 3,000 people gathered at a square in a Manila suburb who rose to their feet in cheers when they saw Pacquiao knock Vargas, 27, down in the second round.
But even Bagaporo admitted that “Vargas isn’t a match for him so the fight wasn’t so exciting”.
Pacquiao has also suffered some setbacks, losing a long-awaited match to American rival Floyd Mayweather in May 2015. He officially retired from boxing in April after beating American Timothy Bradley.
After a few weeks in Congress, he announced a comeback against Vargas.
But mechanic Bebot De Ocampo, 57, noticed that both Pacquiao’s prowess and the fans’ fervour seemed to be flagging.
Less than 50 people gathered at a mall in the southern city of Digos to see the latest fight compared to the more than 200 who flocked there for previous matches, he said.
“He has slowed down and his strength has fallen from when he was in his late 20s,” De Ocampo told AFP.
“He should retire now. He has won a WBO title. Now he can focus on the Senate,” he added.
Former government sports commissioner Richie Garcia also told AFP that Pacquiao should retire, saying only a rematch with Mayweather would justify another comeback.