Can Manny Pacquiao be a real hero?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-01-07
Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao barely made it through the eye of a needle in avoiding a potentially wealth-draining legal quagmire when he signed two conflicting contracts with Top Rank’s Bob Arum and Golden Boy Promotions’ Oscar de la Hoya. The incident proves how Pacquiao badly needs good advice, especially if he is to deal with the top international boxing promoters or if he is to enter politics.

I won’t even attempt to advise Manny Pacquiao on how to be a great boxer. He has already proven himself to be one of the world’s best. His trainers and coaches have also proven their mettle in transforming a promising slugger into a full-fledged champion.

But Manny Pacquiao is a babe in the woods when it comes to Philippine politics. With all my years as a political observer and analyst, I know that Manny Pacquiao is being spruced for sacrifice on the altars of Philippine politics. As an elder to a neophyte, I’d like to advise Manny Pacquiao not to fall for the sweet-talking politicos who want to pimp him for votes, hoping to cement their hold on the material world and its lusty pleasures.

Boxing is a rough and brutal occupation. It is a blood sport born from the bowels of the underworld, pitting man against man for bets and savage thrill. And yet, despite all the fight fixing and below-the-belt punches, boxing today has fewer risks and certainly, is less wicked than Philippine politics.

In boxing, the fighter only needs to watch out for his opponent’s punches and occasional elbows and head butts. In politics, you will not even be warned of the backstabbing and the double cross your very own teammates will inflict on you once you start becoming a threat to their greed for power and acquisition.

I can advise Manny Pacquiao to take either of two options. The first, and to me the best option – is for Manny to stay away from politics. This is also his mother’s fervent wish – and mothers know best and will want only to keep a son out of harm’s way.

Manny may have doused water to suggestions that he enters politics but somehow the refusal didn’t sound convincing enough to me. His body language telegraphed the message that he is keeping his options open. After all, haven’t we seen it happen many times in the past – denials are changed due to "public clamor" or "in response to the call to serve" and ad infinitum reasons.

The other option – if Manny must get involved in politics – is for him not to join the traditional politicians. Instead, he can use his immense popularity to champion the people’s cause and rally them under his anthem – laban mo, laban ko (your fight, my fight). Being one of them, Manny can identify with the true needs of the poor and serve as their inspiration to bring about an understanding and resolve to do something about the systematic injustice in our dysfunctional democracy.

No longer struggling for his next meal like most of the people he is close to and grew up with, Manny should now start pondering why only 3 percent of the Philippine population control over 85 percent of the nation’s wealth. He should also consider if those politicos hovering around him during these glory days of his would have cared for him or even give him the time of day if not for his fame and what they can gain from it.

Our democracy will work only when our people realize and understand the dynamics of their exploitation. We have a dysfunctional democracy mainly because we have an unenlightened electorate. The best proof of that dysfunction is the tendency of the masses to seek salvation from showbiztocracy – a term I coined before the 2004 elections to describe the emerging phenomenon of showbiz personalities running for public office.

Our dirty politicians make our politics extremely dirty. The biggest tragedy would be if Manny Pacquiao joins the ranks of these traditional politicians and, like them, he becomes a millstone round the neck of the poor and underprivileged. That would be like a big brother who took advantage of his younger sibling and fed him to the sharks.

But when politics becomes a tool for the one with an honest heart that truly cares for the poor, it is as noble as the noblest of all pursuits. This is the hero that Manny should aspire to be.

Manny Pacquiao need not even run for public office to be able to inspire and lead the masses. In fact, he will be most effective by not running for public office because that way, no one will ascribe ulterior motive to his actions.

Manny is not expected to craft the economic program that will emancipate the poor. He does not even have to run after the crooks in government. But if he can open the eyes of his people to the reasons why they are poor generation after generation, the next one more miserable than the previous – then Manny would have already removed the single biggest obstacle to the economic emancipation of Juan de la Cruz.

It’s easy to see why the first option is the best. By staying away from politics, Manny will be free from the bondage of utang na loob (debt of gratitude) from political patrons and escape the ire of politicos he will adversely affect.

By staying out of politics, Manny will keep in tune with the real needs of people and the many who regard his achievement as an achievement of the ordinary Filipino. By staying out of politics, he spares himself from being victim of the lies and treachery of a political netherworld that wants only to preserve itself and its excesses.

Rising from his poverty, Pacquiao fought hard for his wealth. It is wealth that will provide a good life for his family, if they use their money well. Manny may not even realize that public expectation of him will change along with his shift to politics. As boxing champ with a multi-million dollar paycheck, balato (a treat) is the most that his fans expect from him. They will not begrudge him if he declines to oblige them. His fans will understand that the money he earned is now part of his personal and family assets.

But it will not be quite the same once he gets into politics. Politicians are reputed to enrich themselves from resources that are rightfully for the poor. The moment Manny’s backdrop changes from boxing ring to the political stage, he will be seen as just one of "them" and people will expect, nay demand, favors and support from him. After all, his compensation and his perks are now paid by taxpayers’ money.

When this happens, the Pambansang Kamao becomes the Pambansang Ninong – the dole-out variety. Can Manny Pacquiao, as politico, veer away from that syndrome of patronage that breeds the culture of corruption in Philippine politics?

Can the Pacman maintain a lifestyle that will provide a good role model for his many admirers? Setting a good example is the first important task of a true leader. You can’t inspire people to rise above themselves and reach a higher level if you yourself are stuck in the muck of vice and avarice.

Does Manny Pacquiao really care for the poor or is he just angling to join the oligarchs who have been feasting on the poor?

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