PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — LIKE any arriving passengers, Manny Pacquiao observed airport rules as precautionary measure against swine flu virus once he blew into town yesterday after another memorable triumph.
That’s about the only thing that made the boxing legend look like an OFW returning from Hong Kong or Jeddah.
The moment he finished passing through a thermal scanner, having a foot bath, and filling up a health card, Pacquiao got to become what he really is—a legend, a hero, an idol to a grateful nation which celebrated like crazy the day he demolished British idol Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas.
“Thank you very much to God and to those who are here. I’m happy I have brought honor to our country again,” said Pacquiao in the vernacular during the brief airport rite that touched off what would become a long, tiring set of activities for the man everybody now regards as one of the greatest boxers who ever lived.
Wearing an off-white suit, black dress and a fedora hat, Pacquiao hit town early Friday morning, defying a government appeal for him to postpone his trip for at least five days and undergo self-quarantine over fears he could help spread swine flu.
Airport authorities set up a cordon to keep the boxer and his party at a distance from the press and the public amid fears over the potential spread of the influenza A (H1N1) virus.
But reporters and fans refused to heed the request of airport officials, breaking through the barrier to get a glimpse of the man who did his countrymen proud for the nth time on Sunday by stopping Hatton in the second round of their world light-welterweight championship bout.
Smiling and waving, Pacquiao was met by a large throng of welcomers at the arrival lounge of the Ninoy Aquino International airport, foremost of them were three of his four children, namely, Jemuel, Michael and Princess, whom he showered with hugs and kisses before accommodating the press.
The parade that usually takes place every time he returns from a victorious campaign was postponed for Monday due to poor weather brought about by Typhoon Emong, something which didn’t disappoint the top pound-for-pound fighter today.
An audience with President Arroyo and other high-ranking government officials will also take place on Monday.
“Okay lang yun (postponement of the parade). Talagang masayang masaya ako,” said Pacquiao, who was accompanied on his return by wife Jinkee, mother Dionesia, friends like singer-composer Lito Camo, politician Chavit Singson and other members of Team Pacquiao.
It was the start of a long day for the boxing icon.
From the airport, Pacman went to Rennaisance Hotel in Makati City, where he broke break with close friends that included former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and his son Ali, shortly after he and Jinkee granted a brief interview to the hosts of Unang Hirit over GMA Channel 7.
When asked what he thinks of Manny now, the young Atienza said “He (Pacquiao) has shown the world what Filipinos are made off. This time not just in the Americas but including Europe. He has shown a major trait that people has seen is believing in God and giving God full credit of his accomplishments.”
Accompanied by the Atienzas, Singson and other members of his team, Pacman proceeded to the Quiapo church under clear weather to hear mass, something he does since winning the big fights starting in 2000.
Wherever he went, Pacman was mobbed by fans,who shook hands with him, sought autographs, took pictures as they ignored local health officials’ warning against close contact with the champ.
“Bale wala yung flu virus na yun. Ang importante, makita at makamayan ko si Pacquiao,” said Manuela Santillan, a young sampaguita vendor, who forced his way through a sea of Friday devotees to see the boxer as he made his way out of the Quiapo church.
Right after the thanksgiving mass officiated by Msgr. Clemente Ignacio, Pacman went to the Department of Energy and Natural Resources where, again, he was given another warm homecoming by employees and people doing business inside the DENR offices.
Even the rich and famous couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of the champ.
San Miguel Corp. bigwigs led by Danding Cojuangco and Ramon Ang and Philippine Long Distance Company (PLDT) and Smart top honcho Manny Pangilinan welcomed him in their respective offices, exchanging pleasantries and posing for souvenirs with the boxer.
It was already 4 in the afternoon when Pacman went to the Mall of Asia where Kapuso officials held a special live program during which he belted out four songs, including an Alice Cooper hit titled “I’ll Never Cry”.
Once Manny started singing that Cooper hit, the crowd that included GMA bosses like Tony Tuvierra erupted in cheers.
And Manny loved that.
Of course, Pacman sang the three songs which Caimo wrote specially for him, namely, Bilog ang Mundo, Para sa Iyo and Lahing Pinoy.
Dusk had fallen when Manny and his wife and two kids returned to the Renaisance Hotel where they took their dinner.