Why We Love Manny Pacquiao ~ A Radical Ringside Commentary
** I wrote this piece several years ago before Manny became a Senator. Since becoming a Senator, I find it very hard to love Manny so much anymore. More about this at the end of this piece.
As we gather, first generation Filipina/os, 2nd generation Filipina/os, middle–class, and peasants & workers to watch another Manny Pacquiao fight, I wonder at the pride and love we all feel in Manny, regardless of our background, politics and class.
We love Manny because he smiles when he enters the ring.
We are a smiling people. It is how we survived colonization. I imagine that we smiled at Magellan, just before Lapu Lapu lopped off his head. We smiled at the Japanese conquerors while some of us escaped to join the Hukbalahap in the mountains. This coping strategy means that we smile in the most inappropriate of situations. For example, in 2008, Manila was hit with a catastrophic amount of rain, and without an appropriate sewage system, people waded in polluted, filthy water to get to safety, but when the television camera landed on people fleeing their homes – they always turned and smiled.
Manny turns to all of us and smiles. It’s like he looks at us and says, “Yeah, we are some of the poorest of the world, but I am so happy to be here for us, representing that the Filipino people still survive and we still have joy.”
We Love Manny because he lives with all of his friends and family.
Over and over the American commentators always express astonishment at the friend and family that Manny brings with him wherever he goes. Our families are large and dysfunctional but we try to stay together. We work, love and struggle collectively. This probably comes from out pre-Spanish history. Many of our ancestors traveled the South China Sea in large boats called “barangays.” And now, this is what we call our neighborhoods, “barangays” – because we know are all in one boat together. This innate sense of interconnectedness helps maintain us when more than 10 million of us are now scattered all over the world as result of forced, economic displacement. Millions of us grow up without our mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins. We survive through creating community in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Queens, New York. We survive through living together on the railroad tracks outside Manila.
Manny knows this, he lived, hustled, and worked on the streets of General Santos City. He hasn’t forgotten that his strength comes from his clan, and so he travels with the his kababayan (fellow countrypersons). It’s like he built a huge barangay and sails it into every fight. As an act of love, he proposed a bill to make Freddy Roach a Filipino citizen. Why would anybody want to be a citizen of one of the poorest country’s in the world? Because Freddie knows that to be a Filipino/a means to never sail alone. If the boat is sinking, you will have 100 people trying to bail out the water. As Manny said recently : “Anuman na-achieve ko, tayong lahat yun.” All that I achieved, was an achievement by you(the people of the Philippines)”
We love Manny because he sings Karaoke, Seriously. Manny has now sung on Jimmy Kimmel – live – three times! All super corny love ballads. But he sings them, for real, seriously, his heart on his sleeve, his eyes imploring into the camera. He sings like all our kababayan(fellow countrymen/women), who working overseas because of forced economic displacement, gather together in basements and boarding houses to sing the pop songs of their childhood and resist the crushing isolation of life overseas. It’s no coincidence that karaoke was invented by a Filipino.
He is every Filipino, fresh off the boat – unashamedly not cool and with every American pop song committed to memory. We love him because we remember every time we were mocked for our accents and our unabashed passion for American love songs. We know that if he wasn’t the best fighter in the world, he would be made fun of for his willingness to croon into the camera lyrics like “every time we touch, the honesty’s too much” without a single note of sarcasm.
We Love Manny because he is the Philippines we aspire to be.
Manny is the smallest guy in the ring, he was the poor third-world kid who sold water to the rich petit bourgeoisie in the cars. But in the ring, he always emerges victorious. He amazes the whole world. No other fighter in history has successfully fought in so many weight classes. US President, McKinley patronizingly called us his “little brown brothers” before he sent in the United States Marines to colonize us and murder us. We are the workers, the maids, of the world. Our own country sells our bodies and labor into the world market – relying on our billions of remittances to keep the bloated, corrupt government afloat. Rather than investing in industry in the Philippines, which would give us jobs in our homeland, the Philippines is the home of some of the largest malls in the world.
But we know, deep down inside, that our country should/could be better. We have endless shores of beautiful beaches, deposits of nickel, oil off our shores, and the hardest working people in the world. We know that we should not be living in the streets, under bridges, on the railroad tracks. We used to be called the Pearl of the Orient.
Manny is our Pearl. For the twelve rounds he is in the ring, we forget the historical wrongs we have suffered. We watch him astound the world and so bring honor to our country. For a brief moment, the Filipino is victorious, our courage is undeniable, our strength is unsurpassed. For twelve rounds, Filipina domestic workers can forget that they are millions of miles away from their family, that they live their lives taking care of other people’s families while they to try to skype love across the oceans to their own families.
But at the end of the fight, we must remember that it’s the People who must lead. At the end of the fight, Manny takes home a few million dollars, but the majority of Filipina/os continue to live everyday with the realities of starvation and deep poverty. Manny knows and remembers the desperation of that reality, and that’s why he gives us so much hope. But the real hope lies within us, the millions of Filipino/as that have the power to force the Philippine government to really work for the welfare of the people. This means a government that isn’t beholden to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but rather one that is run by the people and for the people. The next time we gather together to watch Manny fight yet another opponent, let’s also talk about the rich and corrupt leaders of the Philippines that continue to keep our country down for the count.
Why I Don’t Love Manny Quite So Much, Addendum
I wrote the above several years ago and now we have some reasons to love Manny a little less. Since become a Senator, the Congressman Pacquiao has become quite the Christian, religious conservative. His own religious beliefs are his to have, of course, but he voted no on the historic reproductive rights bill in the Philippines’ Congress. This Bill, which was recently upheld by the Philippines’ Supreme court is not a radical bill, it doesn’t provide a right to abortion, for instance. “The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act, known as the RH Bill, strikes down some longstanding barriers for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care, including access to natural and modern contraception and reproductive health information for adults” according to Amnesty International’s site. Filipina women needed this bill desperately, in order to make informed choices about their reproductive health. Manny let us all down by voting no on the Bill. So, even though I am rooting for him tonite as a boxer, I hope he stops pretending to represent the people as a Senator. And I REALLY hope he doesn’t run for President!
 Also known as the Huk Rebellion, (1946–54), Communist-led peasant uprising in central Luzon, Philippines. The name of the movement is a Tagalog acronym for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, which means “People’s Anti-Japanese Army.”