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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pacquiao to build university in impoverished region

By Max Estayo and Clarissa Batino
Bloomberg News Service

Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who was forced to drop out of high school, says he plans to build a university in the impoverished province where he is expected to win a seat in Congress following the May 10 Philippine elections.

Pacquiao, ranked with Floyd Mayweather Jr. as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world by The Ring magazine, said he may be declared the winner later today in the ballot for Sarangani province, in the southern island of Mindanao, as his rival, Roy Chiongbian "hasn't won in a single municipality." He leads by a margin of more than 2-1, the latest tally shows.

Forty-five percent of families in the province were classified as living in poverty as of 2006, the National Statistical Coordination Board said. Lack of education, together with low incomes and power shortages, was one of the main factors driving Filipinos into the arms of rebel groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and communist New People's Army, according to the United Nations.

"As congressman, I'll focus on providing livelihood programs for farmers and fishermen," the fighter known as Pac- Man said in an interview yesterday by the boxing-glove-shaped swimming pool at his mansion in General Santos City. "We will set up a college or university."

Philippine congressmen are allocated 70 million pesos ($15 million) a year of government funding known locally as their "pork barrel" for projects of their choice, making a seat a source of patronage in a country where the World Bank says one in four people survives on less than $1.25 a day.

Chiongbian, whose family has ruled Sarangani since they helped create the province, didn't grant requests for an interview at his home in Sarangani yesterday.

National Icon

Pacquiao lost a 2007 bid to become a congressman in neighboring South Cotabato province, underscoring the challenge even for a national icon in unseating the incumbent landed families that dominate the country's politics.

Pacquiao and his family struggled with poverty in General Santos, the main town of Cotabato.

"Manny and I went to high school but we both dropped out because we had no money," said Bobby Pacquiao, his 29-year-old younger brother, who also took up boxing. "We were really dirt poor. Sometimes we'd go to school without eating at all. Manny and I went into boxing to earn money to send our brother to school."

Of the four children, only youngest brother Ruel finished college. Their eldest sibling, sister Isidra, didn't even make it to high school, said Bobby, who was playing billiards with Ruel at a hall owned by Manny in a two-storey commercial building 10 meters from the house.

Starbucks Coffee

In the 1990s Pacquiao would fight in nearby provinces for a winner's purse of 150 pesos, or about the cost of a large coffee at Starbucks Corp. in central Manila, Bobby said. Fighting in Manila gave him anywhere from 2,000 pesos to 5,000 pesos, which "he'd send to our mother," he said.

From sleeping on cardboard as a child, Pacquiao's mansion in General Santos now has a six-car garage. A black General Motors Co. Hummer was parked outside on May 10, election day. In the living room, the walls are decked with portraits of his boxing triumphs.

Pacquiao earned about $22 million for his 12-round bout with Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto last year, ESPN reported, citing his promoter Bob Arum.

Pacquiao's mother now wants him to quit the ring, "but Manny wants" to fight Mayweather, his wife, Jinkee, said in an interview at "Jinkee's World," the clothing and accessories shop she owns in the commercial building. "Manny still wants to fight; maybe two more fights," she said.

Biggest Draw

A fight between Pacquiao, 31, holder of the World Boxing Organization welterweight title, and the undefeated American would be among the sport's biggest draws. Talks for the bout collapsed earlier this year when the two sides couldn't agree on drug-testing procedures.

Top Rank Inc.'s Arum said he would start negotiations for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight as early as this week when he returns to the U.S. Arum flew to the Philippines last week to support Pacquiao's political bid.

"I can balance my time between boxing and politics," Pacquiao said yesterday, refusing to discuss any future fight.