Are Filipinos Relying Too Much on Pacquiao for Glory?
New America Media, Commentary, Rene P. Ciria-Cruz Posted: Nov 20, 2009
Seeing how Filipinos raved about Manny Pacquiao as a symbol of what, in the words of many a fan, “Filipinos are capable of achieving,” a friend asked me, “Aren’t Filipinos relying too much on Pacquiao to build their national self-esteem? That’s too much of a burden for one man to bear.”
My friend is right; it’s too much. After all, Pacquiao is only a welterweight. My friend also can’t be blamed for getting the impression that Filipinos just seem to go crazy for their “Gloved One.”
Pacquiao’s every victory in the ring becomes a virtual national holiday in his homeland. “The National Fist,” we call him. Even Muslim secessionist guerrillas, who bristle at being called Filipinos, reportedly take a break from combat to watch his fights on satellite TV. Then, after Pacquiao TKO’d Miguel Cotto last Saturday to gain the welterweight crown, his compatriot horde in the arena just went wild. One Filipino fan even held a Philippine flag with the message “Pacquiao for President.”
But it must be said right here and now, to my friend and to anyone tsk-tsk-ing at our over-the-top adoration of the champ, we Filipinos haven’t lost sight of our priorities. Folks must be reminded that when Pacquiao, after a string of ring victories, ran for a congressional seat in the Philippines on May 14, 2007, he lost by a considerable margin to his little-known opponent. So my people know there are limits. But sometimes we forget and, like that fan who took it upon himself to nominate Pacquiao for president, we also sometimes get ahead of ourselves.
Yet there are compelling social and political reasons why Pacquiao is God to us right now. In a country where most of the people are impoverished, he’s the Filipino Everyman made good; Pacquiao was so poor he once had to sell cigarettes by the stick (ciggy smalls, it’s called here) to make a living. Now he’s one of the richest men in the Philippines and an international celebrity to boot--from rags to riches and fame, all through his own honest effort.
In a country where many of the rich and powerful got to their perch by lording over the powerless, or through corruption, inheritance or a combination thereof, who wouldn’t look up to the guy who made it to the top on sheer will power? The man deserves to be hailed as a model of perseverance.
Yes, give us Filipinos a break if we seem to go overboard with our hero worship of “Pacman” (we call his mother “Pacmom”). We’ve seen our country go from being the most economically promising among its Southeast Asian neighbors after World War II to being a perpetual economic basket case, thanks to a ruinously corrupt politico-economic elite. We’ve got Imelda Marcos’ shoes to live down, and no visible Cory Aquinos in the offing to at least break the mold. Every natural disaster gives the world a window into our people’s destitution. Millions of our compatriots have had to leave the homeland to work abroad. Their remittances have become a much-relied-upon source of national revenue, so much so that the government would probably collapse if they stopped sending money home all at once.
Without a Japanese, South Korean or Singaporean-style economic miracle to show for, we Filipinos have had to depend not on scientists or technological heavy hitters, but on our stars in the entertainment arena for international recognition. They’re all we’ve got right now, but we’ve got them. So thank goodness for Lea Salonga, the teen warbler Charice Pempengco, and even for every Filipina beauty pageant winner who gets 15 minutes on the world stage. Of course, a giant thank goodness for Manny Pacquiao.
But don’t jump to conclusions like my friend did. For every Filipino who yells “Pacquiao for President,” there’s another one who begs the champ on the Internet to stick to boxing and “not to waste your money on political ambition.” So, you see, we Filipinos have not lost sight of what’s truly important. We’ve still got our priorities straight. At least, until Pacquiao beats Floyd Mayweather.
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