This was first published in the December 2016-January 2017 issue of Rogue.
Congratulations on your recent win. I feel like I need to come clean: unlike your fights over the past several years, I didn’t catch this one live. I just didn’t feel like spending P5001 at the theater for this one. To tell you the truth, I’m still a bit miffed about spending P750 on your bout against Floyd Mayweather just for him to keep hugging you. So yeah, for this fight with Jessie Vargas, I was okay with just the ultra-delayed GMA-7 coverage.
I felt it wasn’t worth the money. I felt you weren’t worth the money.
It’s funny, I’ve always loved you as a fighter—which makes it perhaps inevitable that I love you less now when you’re much less of a fighter than you used to be. Vargas was a tomato can, a patsy, and you couldn’t even knock him out.
But there’s more to this than just your diminished skills. You didn’t always make it easy to like you as a person,2 but you never made it hard to love you as a fighter. You always made it worth it. You jumped into the ring and you made us proud, because you were one of us.
I still remember how, walking into the movie theater to watch you fight live in 2009, I was wary of your opponent, Ricky Hatton, a boxer who looked like he came straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie. Thousands of drunken English fans descended upon Las Vegas that weekend to cheer on their Mancunian champion. “There’s only one Ricky Hatton, one Ricky Hatton,” they sang. “Walking along, singing a song, walking in a Hatton wonderland.”
They even booed the Philippine national anthem.3
Hatton got his comeuppance moments later, in what had to be the worst beating for the British since the early days of World War II. A minute into the opening bell, you sent Hatton to the canvas with a lightning right hook.
The British bad boy got up, only to taste the floor once again moments later. He was saved by the bell in round one, but he wasn’t long for this world. You knocked the shit out of him in the second round with a booming left, and that was the end of Hatton.4
After, you went on a live interview on CNN, where host Anjali Rao peppered you with questions in English. You still struggled with those back then, remember? She left your nose more bloodied than Hatton ever could.
But drunken English fans weren’t the only ones who descended upon Las Vegas that weekend. Remember how some 50 congressmen from the Philippines—including House Speaker Prospero Nograles—were in attendance? They were there on what may or may not have been government dime.5 Never mind the fact that there was much work to be done in Congress at the time.
Of course, less than a year later, you would become one of them. You even changed party allegiances after winning, joining Noynoy Aquino’s Liberal Party after campaigning for Manny Villar in the 2010 elections. It would happen again when you became a Rodrigo Duterte die-hard after the elections that saw you campaign for Jejomar Binay.
And while we used to complain about congressmen skipping work before, you just took it to another level. In your six years in office, you were the congressman with the most absences. In the third and final regular session of the 16th Congress, you showed up at the Batasang Pambansa just once in 23 times the roll was called. 6
Along the way, you found time to continue fighting, to play and coach in the Philippine Basketball Association, find God, and host a television show.
It’s all fun and games, of course, until we remember that Sarangani, the province you were supposed to represent, remains among the 10 poorest provinces in the Philippines. It’s a place that needed all the representation it could get, and you couldn’t even give your people that.
That didn’t stop you from running for a Senate seat, even promising to retire from boxing. Conveniently, you fought against Timothy Bradley in April, right smack in the middle of the campaign, and the exposure from the victory perhaps gave you enough cachet to win in the elections—even after you embarrassed yourself, and us, when your comment that same-sex couples who get married are worse than animals made worldwide headlines.
Conveniently, too, you walked back on that statement soon after taking office, fighting Vargas mere months after you promised to retire.
After your fight, a minor controversy broke out over the presence of Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa in Las Vegas. You defended him, saying you paid for his whole trip and he didn’t use government funds. Never mind the fact that there was more important work to be done back home. For him, and for you too, Senator.
Now? I don’t know anymore. Just the other day, you were on the news again, this time defending the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, telling victims to move on and forgive. It would be a sanctified position, except, of course, you are also pushing for the death penalty while thumping the Bible.7
At this point, though, should I still be surprised? These days, whenever I see your name in the headlines, I always brace myself. Like, c’mon, Manny, what is it this time? What new piece of information would make me lose a little more faith in you?
I wish you’d stop fighting; it would be the least you could do considering you’re a senator now. But I wish you’d be a better senator too, and I don’t know how much my wishing can help.
Once upon a time, you jumped into the ring and you made us proud because you were one of us.
That’s no longer the case. It’s become clear, more so as your skills diminish and you are no longer the fighter you once were, that you’ve become one of them.
Or maybe I was wrong all this time. Maybe I just didn’t see it because of the way you dazzled us in the ring. Maybe that’s what you always were: a terrible person disguised as a terrific fighter.
1 Sayang din ’yung P500, limang jumbo na Potato Corner din ‘yun.
2 People have always loved you as a boxer; as other things, not so much. In 2009, you starred in Wapakman, your entry at that year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. The opening day box office grosses read: Ang Panday–P16.9 million; Ang Darling Kong Aswang–P16.8 million; Shake, Rattle and Roll XI–P16.2 million; I Love You, Goodbye–P11.7 million; Nobody, Nobody but… Juan–P8 million; Mano Po: A Mother’s Love—P6.9 million; Wapakman—P750,000. So people may love you, but apparently not enough to pay for a ticket to watch you act.
3 The fuckers.
4 Like, literally. The defeat at your hands devastated Hatton so badly that he checked into rehab to treat his depression and drug and alcohol addictions. He came back for one more fight three years later, a loss to Vyacheslav Senchenko, which only confirmed that he was done in the ring.
5 Naturally, they denied spending the people’s money for the trip. Naturally, no one believed them.
6 It was so bad that on February 20, 2015, GMA News Online ran an article with the headline: “Rare occurrence: Rep. Pacquiao attends House plenary session.”
7 Of course, you’re far from the first public figure to cite the Bible in political matters. They were awful government officials, and awful people, too. Quoting Bible verses, a division of the Commission on Elections rejected LGBT Partylist Ang Ladlad in 2009 because of “immorality.”