Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pacquiao Roundup

I love Manny Pacquiao. Readers of my blog, if there are any left, will probably notice that few topics other than the Pacman can drag me out of hibernation and get me to post something new. Pretty much anyone who watches a Pacquiao fight ends up loving him as a boxer -- his hand speed, his punching flurries, the reckless abandon with which he fights, his improvisatory flair -- and you can count me among them. But my absolute favorite time in a Pacquiao fight isn't during the bout itself; it's the fallout over the next month, when Filipino politicians scramble to share a piece of his limelight and when Manny gets a chance to rest and indulge in hobbies like billiards, basketball, videoke and cockfighting.

Representing on fight night.

After the De la Hoya fight, Pacquiao brought to life the classic sports comedy scenario of the boss who puts himself on the court, when he decided to play semi-professional basketball with the team he owns in the Liga Pilipinas. He also accepted an honorary doctorate from Southwestern University in Cebu. After abusing David Diaz last year we got to witness the brief but charming Pacquiao/Kevin Garnett courtship. With June rapidly approaching, let's take a look at the tornado of hyperbole swirling about after Pacquiao's May 2 flattening of Ricky Hatton.

Exhibit A) After Manny's victory, the Philippine department of health asked him to consider remaining in California with his entourage, rather than returning to the Philippines immediately, just in case a member of Pacquiao's posse had contracted swine flu in the States. The Philippines is always proud to be one of the last countries officially hit by pandemics. I remember when I arrived in the country for the first time, in November 2005, the first thing I saw was a giant blue placard that read WELCOME TO THE BIRD FLU-FREE PHILIPPINES! I wouldn't be surprised if the government was mocking up a new version of this poster for swine flu just around the time Manny planned his return, and I can imagine Health Secretary Francisco Duque (BTW, shouldn't his nickname be Frank Dux, like the Canadian-American martial arts champion portrayed by JCVD in the movie Bloodsport?) brooding over the fact that Pacquiao's victory parade, with all that hugging and high-fiving, and how it could ruin his swine flu sign. Pardon me, Franky, but your position here seems slightly myopic, given that 1) the Philippines recently slaughtered 6,000 pigs infected with swine ebola; 2) no one is fooled by the "no recorded cases" of bird/swine flu gag, just like no one believes it when entire provinces report zero crime for an entire year; 3) the country faces public health woes far greater than swine flu.

Exhibit B) Laguna Congressman Edgar San Luis submitted a resolution in the Philippine House of Representatives that would grant Philippine citizenship to Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach. This is a nice gesture; a little silly, but I don't mind the idea of honoring Roach with citizenship. However, since I tend to see events through the prism of Philippine basketball, where Filipino ancestry and citizenship is a very contentious issue, I also have to think of the Fil-foreign players toiling in the Liga and the PBL because no one will pay to fix their papers for the PBA draft. I think of former imports like Norman Black, a PBA hall-of-famer, who chose to spend his life in the Philippines and has played a vital role in the development of basketball in the country. Black still isn't a full-fledged Filipino citizen, although he could probably become one if he called in a few favors. And what about Alex Compton, the Manila-born American citizen who has been beloved by millions of Filipinos since 1998, when he arrived in the country to play in the MBA? Of all the Americans floating around the Philippine basketball world, no one loves the country more than Compton, who has become a fluent, even elegant Tagalog speaker, who stayed in the country even after the MBA folded and it was unclear how he'd be able to make a living. Freddie Roach, merely by helping Pacquiao become such a great fighter, has made a legitimate contribution to Filipinos' lives, but citizenship wouldn't mean as much to him as it would to these other Americans who decided to build entire lives and raise families in the Philippines.

Exhibit C) Manny's money. Pera ni Pacquiao. How much of it does he have? What will he do with all of it? Who gets a piece of it? We've seen the stories about how Manny gives away rice and small wads of cash in General Santos City. My favorite was a Ronnie Nathanielsz piece on how Bob Arum, Pacquiao's promoter, wants to protect Pacquiao's money.
Arum said: "I'm not going to stick that money [fight earnings] in his bank. I am going to sit down with him and Jinkee (Pacquiao's wife) and guys like Lito (Atienza) and Chavit (Singson) whom I respect, and make sure he puts it some place where he can't get his hands on it."
Really? Manny's money will be safe in the hands of a boxing promoter, Lito Atienza and Chavit Singson? It's tough to come up with two slimier trapos (traditional politicians AKA corrupt dynasts) than those two guys. This is like Arum saying, "I want to protect Manny's meat locker, that's why I am turning it over to these two hyenas."

Exhibit D) Finally, the main event -- politics. With national elections now less than a year away, much has been made of Pacquiao's potential in politics. He's openly stated his plans to run for congress again in 2010, and Lennox Lewis is out there writing columns saying that Pacquiao will be president. Most of what has been written is brainless hype. Pacquiao's mass appeal does have a ton of political potential. But it doesn't look like Manny himself is going to be the one who exploits it. Instead, higher-ups like Noli de Castro (ninong to Pacquiao's infant daughter, Queen Elizabeth Pacquiao), power brokers like Singson and Atienza, and even relatively clean, opposition politicians like Sen. Chiz Escudero and Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio seem poised to campaign aside Pacquiao and ride his popularity to their own electoral victories. Pacquiao indeed has the fame to come out in the top-12 of a senatorial ballot, and perhaps to challenge for the presidency, but his political advisers (many of whom senators, senatorial candidates, members of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration and presidential hopefuls), for reasons that seem steeped in self-interest, seem to be steering him to more modest goals.

The American press has picked up the political angle -- A USA Today story mentioned Pacquiao's plan to run in 2010 -- and they have accepted the fools' explanation of Manny's failed 2007 bid for Congress, when he lost the race for GenSan's seat to Darlene Custodio. As the story goes, Pacquiao lost because voters thought serving in Congress would interfere with his boxing career. They were looking out for him. How sweet. Actually, he lost because he made the mistake of challenging a political dynasty in a local election. This is a correction that really shouldn't need to be made, but Conrado de Quiros set the record straight nicely in an appropriately cynical column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Pacquiao lost to Custodio because local elections are still about machinery, and Custodio's family has controlled elections in General Santos for generations. Philippine senators are elected nationally, so having name recognition like Pacquiao's could easily make him a lock for a seat.

Every time Pacquiao fights, the chatter surrounding him becomes a little more unhinged, while at the same time the political side of the story becomes more realistic. Who knows what could happen if he fights and defeats Floyd Mayweather, Jr., at the end of this year.


Anonymous jaemark said...

hey you missed the fact that he's been designated as a special agent by the department of justice by that loon raul gonzales

10:19 AM  
Blogger Pon said...

awww you three watched pacquiao? rissa came all the way to NY? - amillah

10:09 AM  
Blogger Sip of Chai said...

I love your blog! You sound so Filipino... Are you?

11:30 AM  

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