PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE homecoming was a smash hit.
From the loving embrace of his three children to the thousands who celebrated his latest victory in an early night revelry, Manny Pacquiao’s homecoming yesterday was every bit a success as the nation welcomed its famous son.
The world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter arrived at dawn aboard a Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 from Los Angeles, met sons’ Emmanuel, Jr. and Michael and daughter Princess for the first time in two months and followed every detail in his hectic itinerary for the day.
It was the most awaited arrival since Pacquiao vaulted into superstardom with a devastating victory over Marco Antonio Barrera years back, and the former baker and construction worker enjoyed every minute of it sharing his triumph to his beloved countrymen.
“Ang panalong ito ay panalo ng buong Pilipinas,” said Pacquiao during a press conference at the security-tight Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
From the reunion with his beloved children, the 29-year-old conqueror of Oscar De La Hoya only four days ago proceeded to Quiapo Church for a Thanksgiving Mass at 8 a.m. conducted by Monsignor Clem Ignacio, creating a bumper-to-bumper traffic along Quezon Blvd. and generating a shoulder-to- shoulder gathering outside the basilica’s entrance.
The boxer who won three weight divisions in a year then went to Malacanang Palace and was awarded by no less than President Macapagal-Arroyo with the title of ‘Ambassador of Peace.’
During the President and Pacquiao’s conversation – which was broadcast on national television – Macapagal-Arroyo was seen throwing punches as the People’s Champion discussed the specifics of his fight with De La Hoya that ended when the 1992 Olympic gold medalist declined to continue at the end of the eighth round.
“It was a mismatch the other way around,” said the President to Pacquiao. “You are not the underdog.”
Pacquiao then answered: “Pagpasok ko sa ring, alam ko na kasama ko ang Panginoon. Sabi nila, ‘malaki raw ang problema ko.’ Pero ang sabi ko naman, ‘malaki nga ang problema ko, pero may Panginoon naman na napakagaling.’”
The President then asked about Pacquiao’s forthcoming child, who Pacquiao said will be named Elizabeth.
Afterwards, the President shared a carrot cake in the shape of a red boxing glove — with ‘World’s No. 1 Pound-for-Pound Boxer’ written on it — with the Filipino ring idol, who will turn 30 on Dec. 17.
“You (Pacquiao) are truly an inspiration to all Filipinos,” said the President to Pacquiao.
After his visit at the President’s official residence, Pacquiao guested in a TV show and said: “Alam ko naman na lahat kayo (Filipinos) ay ninerbyos (bago ng laban). Pero alam ko rin na pinagdasal ninyo rin ako.”
Pacquiao, who will return to the U.S. days before Christmas with his children to spend the Yuletide vacation with his eight-month pregnant wife Jinkee, then proceeded to the Lower House establishment and was again greeted with praises by lawmakers.
The festivity of his return doesn’t stop there, though.
Today, the future Hall of Famer and No. 1 candidate for the Fighter of the Year goes through the traditional victory parade around the main streets of Metro Manila.
Pacquiao is expected to return to his Mindanao hometown either tomorrow or on Saturday and will remain there to celebrate his birthday.
Coach Freddie Roach, the architect of his ring successes and perhaps the runaway winner for the Trainer of the Year award, and promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank are expected to arrive in GenSan to be with Pacquiao on his birthday.
Pacquiao is likely to spend three full months resting. His next opponent is yet to be known, although Roach has already made his opinion known that he would lean towards a fight with Ricky Hatton in a junior welterweight fight.
The Filipino, who became the first Asian to capture belts in four weight classes, defeated De La Hoya at 147 pounds (welterweight) at the MGM Grand Hotel and was a 2-1 underdog against the fighter who held crowns in six weight divisions.