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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, May 10, 2010

Pacquiao enters political ring

By Bill Dwyre
Los Angeles Times

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Manny Pacquiao, who lost in his previous bid for a congressional seat, says: "Last time I started just a month before the election. This time, I am better prepared."

BULLITT MARQUEZ | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Manny Pacquiao says his focus is on the election, not a megafight against Floyd Mayweather Jr.


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GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines The five-car convoy heads south, warning lights flashing, weaving dangerously around the ever-present, slow-moving civilian traffic and on toward the province of Sarangani and its most famous resident, Manny Pacquiao.

There will be a political rally at 3 p.m. and Pacquiao will be the star, much as he is in the boxing ring.

The convoy includes Pacquiao advisers, managers and friends, as well as his famous boxing promoter, Bob Arum. It also includes members of the media. Once the domain of mere sportswriters, Pacquiao now draws no less than the Asian bureau chief of the Times of London.

Pacquiao is arguably the biggest name in boxing, having just been honored as fighter of the decade by the U.S. Boxing Writers Assn. In March, he drew nearly 60,000 people to the new stadium built for the Dallas Cowboys, fighting someone who had little chance of beating him.

In his last 12 pay-per-view fights, he has gotten 6.25 million people to spend at least $50 to watch him, generating $320 million in revenue. But as big as he is in the United States, he is even bigger in his home country.

When he travels about the countryside, it is in a bulletproof van. In this Pacquiao procession minus Pacquiao two police officers are present and packing. That is mostly for Arum, whose fame and worth greatly exceed that of the rest of the caravan.

If that seems excessive, it could be noted that, last November, several hours to the north in Maguindanao, 57 people traveling in a convoy were ambushed, slain and tossed into a hastily dug grave, where they were covered with banana leaves. Their sin, apparently, was to become part of a group that was traveling to file papers to run for election. Several members of the family that was set to oppose those filing are now in jail.

An election-related incident such as this is less surprising here than most places. This country is election-crazed, even though the consensus is that many results are tainted.

The political system is modeled on that of the United States, with an elected Congress and Senate. Pacquiao is running for a congressional seat. In 2007, he campaigned for one in the larger General Santos City district to the north and lost, 60 percent to 40 percent.

"Last time," Pacquiao says, "I started just a month before the election. This time, I am better prepared."

Pacquiao is running against Roy Chiongbian, who is from the family that owns the most land in the district. Chiongbian, who at 61 is 30 years Pacquiao's senior, is running to replace his brother, who is leaving office because of term limits.

At a rally a few miles north in Kiamba, Pacquiao, the star of the show, speaks forcefully, much more so than in interviews. He gestures, changes inflection, pumps his fist. He speaks in the local dialect, one of seven he knows. Nobody on the stage behind him, including the Filipino media, has any idea what he is saying.

A later translation tells members of the convoy that Pacquiao told the crowd he was once like them, that he was poor, that he wanted to help them make it too.

In about half an hour, it is over. The members of the convoy are led through the crowd, Pacquiao smiling, being touched and touching back. It has been a big day in Kiamba. Manny Pacquiao has come. The children, even the adults, don't want to let go.

Pacquiao's political campaign of faith, hope and, possibly, naivete is winding down now.

Today is election day in the Philippines, and the world-champion boxer could very well take a world-class beating, something that has never happened to him in his 56 professional fights and his unprecedented seven titles in seven weight divisions.

Or, with a victory, he could provide a ray of light to the Philippines, where much of the population exists on a dollar a day.

Beyond the election, a huge payday looms for Pacquiao. A year ago, he and Floyd Mayweather Jr., the two best boxers on the planet, could not make a fight deal because Mayweather demanded a blood testing schedule to determine drug usage. Pacquiao refused to accept that schedule. That, by implication, left Mayweather accusing Pacquiao of being a drug cheat and Pacquiao so angry that he sued for defamation of character.

Pacquiao says that his mind is on the election, period.

The smart money seems to be on the voters, once again, protecting Pacquiao from himself and voting no. The smart money also seems to be on the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight getting done, because boxing loves any money, smart or otherwise.

That would leave the children of the Philippines still looking up to a boxer, not a politician. Probably a good thing.