In the lead up to his weekend fight with Joshua Clottey, boxer Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao got some good news from a different arena. Attempts to block his candidacy for Philippines congress under the People's Champ Movement failed, and the Pacman will now stand in the May 10 elections.
It is hard to overstate the popularity of Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines, and much of it is richly deserved. Fiercely competitive and tenacious, he is widely considered as the best boxer in the world, having won seven different weight classes. In this weekend's match against the scrappy and determined Ghanaian, Joshua Clottey, he is expected to triumph again - many predict a knock out in the early rounds.
Manny is everywhere in the Philippines. On billboards and television he plugs a vast array of products. It seems there isn't a sponsor that can't broker a deal with Manny; sports shoes, beer, clothing, snack food, milk, shampoo ("With Head & Shoulders he leading us in the fight against dandruff!"). He's on radio, TV, in gossip columns. A movie has been made about his life. Every time he fights, the country closes down, except for the cinemas and clubs where you can see a live telecast of him pummeling his latest opponent into a mound of pulp, and then you join in the absolute mayhem at the cessation of hostilities.
Now Pacman is confident of winning a seat in Congress, or to put it in the words of his legal counsel, nothing can "stop our champion's inexorable march to victory". He is standing in Sarangani, an urban area away from Manila, with a rising middle class. My middle class friends in Manila snort in derision about his candidacy and even outside of the Manila elite, and despite his incredibly popularity, it doesn't seem a lay down misère for an inexorable march to victory. One older friend said she wouldn't vote for him "because he cheats on his wife" as if this only thing that made him unsuitable for high office. But in this deeply Catholic country, that is a factor not to be dismissed.
Manny's People's Champ Movement has joined forces with the Nacionalista Party and endorsed its Presidential candidate Manuel Villar Jr, who is currently running second in most polls behind Noy Noy Aquino (of that Aquino family). "Manny Pacquiao... has thrown his best punches to hoist our country's pride and honor..." said Villar in a cringe inducing welcome to the champ. Villar is campaigning strongly on his credentials of being from a poor background (a sort of Filipino Joe Biden) but has constantly had the whiff of corruption and dodgy dealings follow him. After a strong start his polling numbers are falling.
Pacman meanwhile is limbering up for another wipe out on Sunday. There seems no doubt that despite his opponent's determination, he won't be able to withstand that onslaught of Pacquaio. Pacman seems to be taking it easy, indulging in one of his favorite pastimes - singing karaoke - in front of millions of bemused Americans on Jimmy Kimmel Live! The routine - flat, shaky and unconvincing but guileless may not be reflection of his performance in the ring, but it may be an indication of the Manny we are about to see on the campaign trail.