PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — VETERAN promoter Bob Arum calls him the best boxer of all time, Hall of Fame trainer Emmanuel Steward declares he’s one of the all-time greatest, and his chief mentor, the great Freddie Roach, considers the man the greatest boxer of his era.
Big compliments for a distinguished fighter like Manny Pacquiao.
But none of them came close to the impact the warm reception the nation tendered to its beloved son upon his arrival early yesterday, almost a week since reaching a new heights in boxing history following his 12-round conquest of bold Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto.
Thousands greeted the boxing icon the moment he stepped out of the Philippine Airlines flight 103 that brought him and his entourage here after a long, 14-hour trip from Los Angeles.
Despite the tiring trip, the 30-year- old Filipino, dressed in black, checkered long-sleeve polo and maong pants, smiled and waved heartily to the early crowd that gathered inside the Centennial 2 airport.
“Sana naging masaya kayong lahat sa naging resulta ng laban ko kay Miguel Cotto,” Pacquiao hollered during his opening remarks at a makeshift stage, where he was joined by wife Jinkee and children Michael, Jemuel and Princess Grace, whom the champion carried in his massive arms the entire time he was at the platform.
Although Jinkee watched the fight in Las Vegas, all four children, including one-year old Queen Elizabeth, was left behind and didn’t see their father for about two months since Pacquiao began training for the Cotto fight.
The Pacquiao family was later joined by estranged parents Dionisia and Rosalio, who watched their son together trade bombs with Cotto Saturday last week at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“Masayang-masaya ako na makabalik sa Pilipinas at muling makasama ang aking pamilya,” said a beaming Pacquiao.
The pride of General Santos City gamely answered questions ranging from his political plans, the projected mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., and the state of his injured right ear and hand which he suffered during the Cotto bout.
“One of these days,” he said, when asked regarding the date of when he will file his Certificate of Candidacy after earlier announcing his intention to seek a congressional seat in the province of Saranggani.
On a 2010 showdown with Mayweather, he said, “depende. Kung mag-kasundo sa negotiation, willing ako to fight. Ayaw na-ming pilitin at hamunin siya, kasi kung hahamunin naming siya, tiyak magde-demand siya ng marami.”
Then he added, “dapat siya ang mag-hamon. Unang-una, mas mataas ang Pay-Per-View ng laban ko sa kanya.”
Pacquiao assured everyone that everything’s fine now with his ear and right hand. “Sa pandinig ko walang problema. Kailangan lang i-drain yung namuong dugo para hindi pumangit yung porma ng tenga.
“Yung sa kamay ko, nagkaroon lang ng bone contusion. Kailangan lang ipahinga ng two weeks.”
Pacquiao and his group were later welcomed in a Las Vegas-style atmosphere at the New World Hotel, where they had a hearty breakfast of tinola, nilagang baka, fried rice, beef stake, among others.
After a short rest, he proceeded to the Quiapo church for his traditional thanksgiving Mass, after which, he went straight to the office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for a courtesy call with Secretary Lito Atienza, a known Pacquiao patron.
Then the traditional motorcade began.
Aboard a huge customized truck, designed with colorful Philippine flags, Pacquiao went around the metropolis for the two-hour parade that was shortened this time and constricted within the areas of Quezon City, Manila, Pasay and Makati.
A massive crowd jammed the streets and traffic came to a virtual standstill as people jostled and lined up to get a glimpse of the one-time bread vendor and construction worker turned the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
They cheered, hollered, and chanted his name as the convoy of vehicles that followed Pacquiao passed by amidst a rain of confetti.
“It will take generations before we get to see another of his kind. He’s simply a boxing icon,” said Damian Paganeli, 40, an employee at a local express transportation company, unmindful that he will be late for work following the monstrous traffic created by the scheduled motorcade of the Pacman.
The parade was over by lunchtime, giving Manny enough time to take a rest for the 2 p.m. concert and victory party tendered to him by television network GMA-7 at the SM Mall of Asia.
An hour later, he was conferred the Order of Sikatuna by President Arroyo at the Quirino as fans cheered.