PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — WE covered Manny Pacquiao’s last two fights in the country, the first when he faced Fahsan 3K Battery of Thailand at the Fort in 2004, and the second when he took out Mexican Oscar Larios at the Big Dome in 2006.
We saw his evolution from being a one-punch wonder to becoming the devastating versatile boxer that he is today in those two bouts.
His refined ring skills were all on display in his slaughter of David Diaz in wresting the World Boxing Council lightweight crown two weeks ago in Las Vegas, Nevada.
A model of dedication and discipline to his craft, Pacquiao is arguably one of the finest athletic specimens that the Philippines has ever produced.
And with his movie-star charisma, the Filipino prizefighter is an icon to millions of sports fans — this scribbler included — both here and overseas.
His rags-to-riches story serves as an inspiration to legions who aspire to make something of themselves.
With virtually the entire nation going gaga over Manny, however, does he truly deserve to be the country’s standard-bearer to the Beijing Olympic Games?
Now there lies the rub; a sore point for some sports purists, who view it as a case of being a square peg in a round hole.
This is the Olympics, after all, with certain sacred and cherished traditions.
Among them is that the one charged with carrying the country’s flag at the parade of delegations during the opening ceremonies is reserved for either the contingent’s most respected or the most outstanding athlete taking part in the Games itself.
For all of his heroic sports exploits, unfortunately, Pacquiao is neither. So Malacanang’s “appointment” of Manny as “special envoy” to the Beijing Games, with the task of carrying the national colors in front of the Philippine contingent during its inaugural rites, left some pundits scratching their heads.
Whose bright idea was this?
Certainly not Monico Puentevella, the esteemed lawmaker from Bacolod, weightlifting chief, POC first vice president and RP team chef de mission, who said so himself at the PSA forum last Tuesday.
But Puentevella sure took pains in justifying Pacquiao’s designation as putative member of the RP squad, citing his stature among Pinoy sports aficionados.
“This is fait acompli,” Puentevella said, guaranteeing that his fellow POC officials had given in to the wishes of Malacanang.
He disclosed that one Filipina weightlifter had gotten a wild card, raising the number of Olympic hopefuls to 15, and gave the country three more national team slots, one of which would be for Pacquiao, of course.
He even cited the examples of other pro athletes such as Russian lawn tennis queen Maria Sharapova and Chinese basketball star Yao, who would also be there at the Games- but as participants, too.
As for swimmer Miguel Molina, who won six golds in the 2007 Southeast Asian Games and was adjudged its Men’s MVP that earlier earned him Olympic flag-bearer honors, Puentevella praised his “sacrifice” for giving way to PacMan.
“We will move heaven and earth to see to it that Pacquiao will be in the Olympics,” Puentevella said in his parting words at the forum.
Manny’s mission to Beijing will be official. Just like any good soldier, Pacquiao, an Army reservist, will answer duty’s call, following Malacanang’s orders no less.