It was a homecoming like no other. For boxing aficionados, he was just another boxing champion. But for a nation hungry for heroes, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao showed there was still hope for redemption.
Here he came, at the dawn of a new day on November 24, emerging from a Philippine Airlines flight from Los Angeles. The nation, ecstatic over his win over Mexican boxing icon Erik Morales in their Grand Finale bout at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 19, welcomed him back with a frenzy only comparable to a rare papal visit.
Indeed, like a papal visit, the first stop since his historic return was a church—the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila. Here he attended a thanksgiving mass past seven o’clock in the morning over his victory over Morales—which incidentally was being shown just outside the church, at the giant exhibition screen of the drug retail firm Mercury Drug in Plaza Miranda.
After a brief rest at the Manila Hotel, where he ate breakfast and met some members of the press for interviews, Pacman arrived past nine o' clock in the morning at Manila city hall for the formal press conference. When he arrived at the hall, Manny welcomed the press saying: “ Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. Narito po ako, nagpapasalamat sa walang sawang pagsuporta, sa press, sa media.”
He continued saying: “Dahil sa suporta at dasal niyo, lagi akong nagtatagumpay.” True enough, 2006 has been very monumental for Pacman, who won three fights in just one year—two against Morales and one against Oscar Larios.
Despite the festive mood, however, Pacquiao was not spared from the issues surrounding him. First is the issue involving contracts he supposedly signed for two separate boxing promoters–Golden boy Promotions of boxer Oscar dela Joya and Top Rank, owned by Bob Arum. Pacquiao had allegedly signed separate multi-year contracts for both promoters—a potentially explosive situation that could have Manny slug it out in the courts.
He answered saying: “Hayaan mo sila, wala akong pakialam,” and everybody is laughing. He continues: “ Basta tayo masaya mga Pilipino.”
When asked whether he will push through his showbiz career, Manny said: “Depende kung ano patutunguhan basta priority sa akin yung boxing dahil diyan tayo nakapagbigay ng pangalan.”
Philippine Entertainment Portal (PEP) asked Manny about a growing clamor for him to run for public office. Unverified reports from newspapers say that he is being eyed as a running mate for Ali Atienza, a mayoral candidate for Manila.
“Nagkataon lang siguro na ang mga katulong ko at sumusuporta sa akin ay nasa pulitika. Nasi ko lang ay makatulong din sa gobyerno natin.
“Wala sa isip ko [ang pulitika]. Ang nasa isip ko e celebrate [buong] sambayanang Pilipinas.”
Another member of the press provided the follow up question asking what does it take to be endorsed by Manny Pacquiao in the upcoming elections? Manny replied: “ Yung makakabuti sa mga mamamayan. Walang hinahanap kundi pag-unlad ng bayan. Yun ang dapat nating suportahan.” He never dropped any names.
Manny's homecoming is topped by Manila's gift for its adopted son—a statue that would soon rise in Baywalk. Gratified, Manny humbly said: “Special na regalo sa akin na hindi ko malilimutan habang buhay kahit mawala na ako. Maraming maraming salamat.”
The press never also missed the chance to throw questions to incumbent Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. He was asked on how he became close to the prized boxer. "Nakita na si Manny ay mabuting tao, mabuting bata, mabuting kaibigan, mabuting boksingero. Itinuturing ko si Manny na isang anak. Lalo akong natutuwa [dahil] hindi nakakalimot.”
Finally Manny Pacquiao is home looking forward to a much-deserved respite from boxing and enjoy a few months of quality time with his growing family. This will be the first time Manny will see his only daughter, Mary Divine Grace, who was born during his rigid training for his fight against Morales.
Manny’s next opponent is yet to be known. Depending on the outcome of the potential legal skirmishes between his handlers, Manny could meet either the reigning World Boxing Council super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera or the unbeaten World Boxing Association super featherweight champion Edwin Valero. When asked whom he prefers to fight with, Manny candidly said: “Pwede bang sabay (everybody chuckles). Round one is Valero, round two is Barrera.” He continues:” Si Valero, nagsisimula pa lang yun.” Valero has knocked out his first 18 opponents. However, a Pacman in high spirits can never be intimidated. He jokes: “Lahat ng nakalaban niya, puro drayber ng tricycle,” as everybody laughs again. He continues: “ Si Barrera, subok na at nakita natin ang katatagan niya.”
After the press conference, Pacquiao visited his ardent supporter, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacañang Palace for a courtesy call.
After the Palace visit, Manny passed through the streets of Manila in a motorcade, wherein a crowd of 200,000 cheered and dropped confetti on their hero. Students skipped classes, employees sneaked out from their offices, housewives left their homes for a while to catch a short glimpse of their champion.
The whole country stopped for it's modern day icon, setting aside all differences even for just a day.