PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — On a hot, sunny Tuesday, in nearly every place in the city, fans showed how much the boxer they call Pacman was meant to them, coming out by the thousands and lining the streets to greet the man during a warm homecoming he richly deserved.
They shouted his name, waved at him, smiled at him in an outpouring of joy as the car bearing him, promising boxer Bernabe Concepcion and a political clan seizing the moment snaked its way through crowded passes during a motorcade that lasted for a few hours.
The fans have given Manny similar lavish welcome many times in the past since he hit the big-time one cold night in November 2003 at the Ala-modome in San Antonio when he demolished Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera .
It was in this same Texas dome, home of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, where Pacquiao achieved his latest exploit as he beat Mexican fighter Jorge Solis by a knockout in the eighth round of a scheduled 12-rounder despite taking a nasty cut in the sixth round last Sunday.
Yet, his countrymen did not mind going out in droves again under the scorching summer sun to get a glimpse of the man yesterday.
“Maski mainitan ako, basta makita ko lang siyang matagumpay ay ok na sa akin,” cigarette vendor Daniel Aguila said as he waited for the motorcade to pass by near his old Sampaloc neighborhood at around noon.
And throughout the long motorcade that came to a halt in some places because of the thick crowd, Pacquiao, soaked in sweat, never complained and seemed to love every minute of the whole shebang.
Wearing cream pants, long-sleeved shirt and a baseball cap, Manny, who arrived at around 5 in the morning along with wife Jinkee and some members of Team Pacquiao, thanked his countrymen for their continued support while asking for a little understanding after venturing into a dirty game called politics.
“Salamat po sa inyong pagdarasal at suporta. Sana rin po maintindihan din po ninyo ako kung bakit ko pinasok ang politika. Gusto ko pong makatulong sa aking mga kababayan sa South Cotabato,” said Pacquiao, looking serious as fans that greeted him upon arrival roared in delight.
Despite the criticisms, Manny decided to seek a congressional seat in the First District of South Cotabato opposite incumbent Darlene Antonio-Custodio, a lovely lady tipped by many as someone who could give the boxer a fight to the finish.
“Unlike Solis or Morales (Erik), this lady will give Manny a fight to remember, a battle-royale. If this is a boxing match, it will not be decided by a knockout or a TKO, but by a split decision. That’s how close the Custodio-Pacquiao fight is,” said Ana, a market vendor from GenSan who’s unmistakebly a Darlene faithful.
The long, tiring day for Manny was highlighted by a courtesy call to President Macapagal-Arroyo shortly after a brief media conference at City Hall and a little rest at the expensive Aguinaldo room of the Manila Hotel where he broke bread with Mayor Lito Atienza, a friend from way back.
While at the Palace, Pacman extended his get-well wishes for the First Gentleman through the President, who had nothing but praises for the boxer.
“He’s a role medal as well as a hero. He’s this generation’s shining light.We should follow his example and heed his call for national unity and teamwork,” the President told the small gathering of administration officials, members of Team Pacquiao and other Palace employees.
The President did not only shower Manny with praises. Like what she usually does when she receives victorious sports heroes at Malacanang, she gave the boxer an undisclosed amount.
Like Pacquiao, Concepcion, who kept his WBC youthbantamweight crown by outpointing American Benjamin Flores in the undercard of the Pacquiao-Solis fight, also received a bonus from the President.
Not only that, the two fighters were also given a chocolate cake with a boxing glove-like icing with the colors of the national flag emblazoned on it. Before leaving, Pacquiao told the President he would visit the First Gentleman anytime soon, adding he prayed for him (Mike Arroyo) while in the United States the moment the news of his 10-hour operation was relayed to him.
Doctors advised the champion against visiting Mr. Arroyo, saying the latter who underwent emergency aneurysmectomy and triple bypass operation could not afford to be excited at this time. At the City Hall, Manny defended his closeness with the Atienza clan which has been getting brickbats from rivals for riding with the popularity of the boxer. “Matagal ko kaming magkakasama at magkakaibigan nila Mayor Lito at Ali Atienza. Bata pa ako at nasa Blow by Blow pa lang, sinusuporthan na nila ako,” he said.
Ali , who joined Pacquiao throughout the parade, is running for the Manila mayoralty post against three others, namely, Senator Alfredo Lim, vice mayor Danny Lacuna and Congressman Rudy Bacani.
Early today, Pacquiao is going back to GenSan, where another 5-kilometer long parade organized by the city government is in store for the boxer.
And look who’s leading the long list of welcomers. Ms. Custodio, a petite oppositionist who has done a lot in her district according to many, will be among those who will greet Pacquiao as soon as she disembarks from a Philippine Airlines plane .
In a television interview, Ms. Custodio said she will personally welcome his political rival, adding that it’s her duty as a leader of the district to pay respect to the man who has done the country proud.
Shortly after the parade, Pacquiao will most likely proceed to his palatial home to meet his children, relatives and close friends.
And once he starts shaking hands with his political leaders, it means the champion is off to the campaign trail.