TACLOBAN CITY – Filipinos in the storm-ravaged city of Tacloban joined the nation in celebration on Sunday after watching boxing hero Manny Pacquiao defeat American Brandon Rios in a comeback fight he dedicated to victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
For a brief moment, those who lost their homes, their livelihoods and even loved ones in the storm forgot their misery as they watched a free, live broadcast of Pacquiao’s overwhelming points victory over Rios in Macau.
“I’m so happy that he won. This is a win for all Filipinos. It will surely uplift our spirits, especially the victims of typhoon Yolanda,” said Mario Penaflor, 41, amid the joyful crowds in Tacloban.
The World Boxing Organization (WBO) International welterweight title clash was broadcast in four public areas in Tacloban to lift the spirits of residents who suffered the brunt of the typhoon’s fury.
The super typhoon has left almost 7,000 dead and missing after its rampage through the central Philippines earlier this month.
Whole families, including children and the elderly, had trooped into Tacloban’s main sports stadium — which served as a major evacuation center during the storm — in a festive mood, ushered in by police and military.
Spirits were high despite the grim evidence of the storm’s destruction that, more than two weeks on, still surrounded them: the damp seats, the stadium’s ruined ceiling, and the crowded conditions.
The crowd proudly sang the national anthem as it was played in Macau and then cheered wildly all through the fight.
The celebration began in the last round as Pacquiao’s victory became obvious. Despite their troubles, people jumped up and down, cheering and laughing in jubilation.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s spokesman, Herminio Coloma congratulated Pacquiao, saying: “As our people’s hearts and minds were united in facing the challenges of the numerous tragedies that faced our country, just like Manny, we will triumph over our current problems by working together.”
He added: “In the face of a tough fight, he has displayed the strength and the character of the Filipino.”
Rainier Panquinco, 29, who lost his home in the storm, said: “It’s a super good day. For awhile, I forgot my suffering.”
He had prayed hard for Pacquiao and did not line up for relief goods Sunday just so he could watch the fight.
“It will give us hope here in Tacloban, and in Leyte and Samar,” he said, referring to the two islands that suffered the worst of the typhoon.
Yolanda was just the latest in a series of calamities to hit the Philippines this year. In October, a 7.1-magnitude quake left over 200 dead and tens of thousands displaced while a bloody, three-week long siege of Zamboanga City by Muslim rebels in September left at least 244 dead with over 100,000 homeless.
Pacquiao, 34, a former champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, was seeking to redeem himself against Rios in Macau after losing his last two fights.
Even before the fight began, many people in Tacloban said a Pacquiao victory held a special significance for them.
Dondon Estandarde, 38, who came to the stadium with his wife and young son, said “a win for Manny is a win for everyone. It will be a win for Filipinos and it will help us typhoon victims also stand up and fight (and show) that we can get back on our feet.”
Pacquiao, who has parlayed his sports fame into election to Congress and a fortune in commercial endorsements, had previously vowed not to let his countrymen down.
“This is not about my comeback,” he said in the ring immediately after the verdict Sunday.
“This is about my people’s comeback from a natural disaster and a natural tragedy.”