Boxing superstar and Philippine Congressman Manny Pacquiao will turn 32 on December 17 (Philippine time) and, by punching his way to success inside the ring, has created such a positive impact for his country in a manner few Filipinos have ever achieved at such a relatively young age. This is the same man who, as a youngster, often skipped meals not to beat the scales on the day of weigh in (as he did later as a prizefighter), but because there simply was no food to eat; the same man whose story started with nothing but a dream to become a boxing champion, make money, and be able to send his earnings to his mother so his siblings may live.
Already being deified anywhere as one of the greatest fighters of all time, at home he is also fast becoming to be ranked alongside the nation’s icons of responsible citizenship. How does he fare among other Filipino greats?
Let’s reel off some of my favorites:
- Major Ferdinand Marcelino, 41, of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency had seen action in the blood-dripped battlefields in Muslim Mindanao. But he conceded that war on illegal drugs is uglier. Pushed to the limelight a couple of years ago by congressional investigations on a drug buy-bust operation involving scions of wealthy families, he admitted having been offered huge amounts of money that were meant to deter him from pursuing the case. That the case did unfold into one that eventually pitted government functionaries charging each other of impropriety could only mean that he refused to give in to the bribery attempt.
- Lea Salonga blazed the path for Filipino entertainers dreaming to make it big on the global stage. Barely out of her teens, she sang and acted her way to fame in the 90s with a superb portrayal of the lead role in “Miss Saigon,” the British-produced musical. She has been an international celebrity since then.
- Bobby de la Paz (1953-1982) was a Manila-bred middle-class physician schooled in the country’s premier learning institution, the University of the Philippines. He could have chosen to go green-grazing like most of his kind did. But instead of establishing a financially-rewarding career overseas, he practiced his medical profession in remote and poverty-stricken Samar where many of his patients were so wretched they already did well by paying for his services with anything they got-like live chicken and other domestic animals-instead of cash. He was only 29 when he was murdered after the military had warned him against attending to all the sick that sought his help, including those they suspected of being local insurgents.
- Jose Rizal (1861-1896), the national hero, defied the Spanish rule with satire. His works led to many other things, including trumped up charges that took away his freedom and, eventually, his life. He was 35 when he fell from bullets of a firing squad.
Unlike Marcelino, Pacquiao may not have the resolve to shun temptation where personal interest is concerned. In fact Pacquiao might have embarrassed himself and his supporters when, sometime in 2006, he supposedly closed a promotional deal with Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, only to unilaterally dishonor it when Bob Arum offered him what could be assumed as a more enticing package.
But where the national interest is at stake, Pacquiao has proven himself equal to Marcelino’s standards. In 2008, the Bureau of Internal Revenue published a list comprising the country’s top taxpayers, and Citizen Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao happened to be on top of that list. For whatever noble intentions the BIR might have in coming out with that list, this one must have shamed the rich in the Philippines-probably all of them directly represented in the highest echelons of government-that no similar list would re-appear since then.
Although 90 percent of the country’s wealth is owned by only ten percent of the Philippine population (around 88 million as of 2010), this ten percent still constitutes tens of thousands of families, and at least two of them are included in the recent Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s richest people. What the BIR list thus suggested was that thousands of Filipinos among the ranks of the rich could afford to cheat their government by not paying the right amount of taxes. They failed in their privileged position to promote the proper exercise of citizenship. By a singular act of honesty, Pacquiao-like Marcelino-has exposed what ails his country. He has shown what prevents it from progressing as a nation. He has opened a dump where corruption stinks from the highest strata of society and of government.
As a prizefighter, Pacquiao-like Salonga-lives in the world of entertainment. They rose to the pinnacle of their craft not only by the brute display of talents they possess. They reached unmatched levels of excellence through a dedicated effort to hone their skills to perfection, one that required hard work, focus and faith in oneself. To learn success through their examples is to give everything one has, which requires discipline. To be another Pacquiao, in sports or in whatever arena of life, one needs to continuously test his or her limits, dare the odds and face certain risks-all of which require courage.
The selflessness and heroism of De la Paz and Rizal are something that merit eternal gratitude from a people who are in constant need of heroes. For years the Overseas Filipino Workers have filled this need. For years the Philippine government could have been ruled by double the dose of creeps it has been used to having and its economy would have survived just the same. The Philippine economy survives and endures not so much because of the government’s astute fiscal management strategies as for the dollars being poured into it by OFWs.
In a context where millions of his compatriots work as virtual slaves in other countries to make a decent living, Pacquiao has gained parity status with other nationalities in matters related to the commerce of men. In a sense, therefore, one could make a case where he has managed to become the employer of, rather than being employed by, foreigners. And it is a case in which Pacquiao himself would unlikely relish being regurgitated in public. But for his countrymen, it is a source of collective pride and one that lifts their human spirit.
For the majority of Filipinos who continue to wallow in poverty, Pacquiao represents hope. For those who grope in the darkness of doubt, he is like the flicker that assures them of their capacity to succeed.
The man who had nothing early in life has now under his command almost everything. He has money and all it can buy. With an estimated asset of close to 70 million dollars, he is number six in Forbe’s list of the world’s wealthiest athletes. He has a multitude of fans. He is famous. He has graced the cover of Time Magazine and Readers’ Digest. He has appeared in mainstream American TV talk shows. Hollywood celebrities have called on him. Former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush had gone out of their way to acknowledge him.
In a relatively short period of time, the Pacquiao legend has soared to dramatic heights. The Filipinos would do well to be grateful for the day this man was born 32 years ago at around this time, and for his parents who raised him to become a ferocious hunter of his dreams.