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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Salute to the Champ!

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One brief shining moment

The Manny Pacquiao experience

It was not just winning the fight, exacting his revenge on Morales,
redeeming himself after losing their first encounter, or earning the purse
of $3 million dollars. Overshadowing all of those elements was Pacquiao's
ability to lift the spirit of the already defeated nation and people.

By Simeon G. Silverio, Jr.
Publisher & Editor
San Diego Asian Journal

Manila, Philippines
January 25, 2006

One shining moment. For one brief, shining moment last Sunday, the Filipino
people stood proud and mighty when favorite son Manny Pacquiao defeated
legendary Mexican boxer Erik Morales in the tenth round of their non-title,
but crucial fight, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Like the Camelot days of yore, the Philippines and its people all over the
globe were on top of the world, basking in the glory of Pacquiao's sweet
revenge and victory. It was a much-needed win and redemption. For more than
a year, the Philippines had languished in a quagmire of political
controversy. Political bickering has ruled the land while almost seventy
percent of the Filipinos continue to suffer in poverty, forcing many,
including professionals, to take meager jobs, like being domestic helps,
abroad. It was as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel as
countries much poorer than the Philippines before, had surpassed the "Pearl
of the Orient seas" in terms of development and are now employing the
Filipinos as maids. Then, in one brief shining moment, Manny Pacquiao, who
has had his own share of disappointments, lifted the Filipino spirit. The
Filipinos stood proud once again and put aside divisions and difficulties,
albeit, for one brief shining moment.


My family and I were lucky to savor the sweet taste of Pacquiao's victory
in our home country, the Philippines. We were visiting when we were invited
to spend the day in beautiful Tagaytay. The sight of the breathtaking Taal
Volcano and feeling the cool breeze rise up to the ridge made the pending
fight distant in our minds, although it was the talk of the town during the
previous week. But as luck would have it, our host brought us to the
famous Taal Vista Lodge, now known as the Taal Vista Hotel, for lunch.
Unbeknownst to us, she reserved two tables situated right in front of a
giant projection screen and television set. The restaurant was filled with
sports fans, many of whom were caught by the Pacquiao fervor. There were
some foreigners and tourists ready to root for Pacquiao.

As if everything was falling into place, we came in with perfect timing for
the fight. The preliminary fight was going on, giving us enough time to
feast on the sumptuous Filipino food, such as prawns, menudo, ensaladang
kangkong, crispy pata, kare-kare, tawilis, lapu-lapu and fresh fruit for
dessert. Some members of our party had a bottle of ice cold San Miguel beer
while the others preferred green mango shakes as we waited nervously for
the fight to begin.

Pin drop

As if on cue, the fight started right after we finished our lunch. One
could hardly hear a pin drop when singer Jennifer Bautista, said to be a
niece of former Senator and movie actor Ramon Revilla, sang the Philippine
National Anthem. She changed the marching tune of the song, which met with
disapproval from the Filipino crowd. For the Mexican and American national
anthems, Emmy Award winning singer John Secada, a Mexican, did the honors.

Everyone was on the edge of his seat during the fight. It was obvious whom
our crowd was rooting for. Whenever Pacquiao got hit, the audience was
quiet. But when Pacquiao connected, no matter if his glove only grazed the
face of Morales, people would respond with thunderous uproar.

I was watching quietly, keeping my fingers crossed. I have had my
disappointments before. There were times when I believed a boxer
convincingly defeated his opponent, only to watch him be declared the loser
by the judges, as though the judges witnessed a different fight. I thought
that the only way Pacquiao could win was for him to knock out his opponent.
It would be a difficult feat since Morales had never been floored before.
If the judges had to decide the winner of the fight, there was less of a
chance Pacquiao would win. The judges, I thought, tended to favor Mexican
boxers, since the Mexican people are one of the most ardent fans of the
sport and their financial clout in terms of gate and television receipts is

Tenth round

Then the end came in the tenth round. Although Pacquiao was leading from
the eyes of the biased Filipino announcers, our small contingent in
Tagaytay was still not sure who would win until the last few seconds of the
fight. After a tremendous exchange in which Pacquiao got his own share of
the Mexican's punches, he hit Morales with a tremendous right cross on the
temple. It was said later that when one is hit on that part of the face,
one would lose his sense of balance. Indeed, Morales staggered and fell
onto the canvas. He stood up on the count of nine, and the referee gave him
the mandatory eight counts. Sensing victory, Pacquiao was relentless. He
hit Morales with a series of shots and the brave Mexican fighter fell
again. This time, the referee stopped the fight.

While all agreed that Pacquiao was the decisive winner, nobody complained
that the referee's call to stop the fight was premature. Someone in our
group commented later, during our own post mortem analysis of the fight,
that the referee had three boxers die in the past after failing to stop the
fights in time. Refusing to take the same risks, the referee did not
hesitate sparing Morales from further harm and the punishing fists of his
It was like everyone had won the lottery in the huge hall of the restaurant
at the Taal Vista Hotel. People were jumping and shouting with joy, waiters
and patrons alike. The nationalistic fervor building up before and during
the fight suddenly burst. I was filled with emotion as tears of joy filled
my eyes. My daughters and wife, who watched the fight at my side, were
screaming. In one instant, I saw my American-born and raised daughters
suddenly become full-fledged Filipinos. It was as if they shed their
Americanism and showed their true colors, which were as brown as their skin.

Among the crowd, exchanges of high fives were scarce. It was too American.
Instead, the members of the crowd embraced, in a more Filipino manner.
Even the appearance of First Gentlemen Mike Arroyo and controversial Ilocos
Sur Governor Luis "Chavit" Singson in the ring did not spoil the fun.
Nonetheless, local newspapers reported the following day that the sight of
the two was received with jeers from the crowds watching the fight at the
Plaza Miranda, Roxas Blvd., Shoemart Malls, and other public places all
over the country.
Despite the fact that cameras showed the Pacquiao camp celebrating and
Morales being treated on the bench, viewers at the lodge refused to leave
until Manny Pacquiao was officially declared the winner.

"Let us make sure his hands are raised in victory by the referee," a
companion insisted. Maybe he thought that the moment he witnessed was just
too good to be true. He wanted to assure himself that he was not dreaming.

With a large part of casino staff comprised of Mexicans and Filipinos,
jokes circulated that Las Vegas closed shop that day. Most of their
bellhops, maids, waiters and dishwashers called in sick because they wanted
to see their favorite fighters and respective compatriots fight. With the
Pacquiao win, it is the Filipinos' turn to have bragging rights.

The whole day during our trip back to Manila all the talk was about
Pacquiao. Everybody marveled at the significance of the event and even more
so at the courage of the Filipino fighter. The pressure on him was
tremendous. It was not just winning the fight, exacting his revenge on
Morales, redeeming himself after losing their first encounter, or earning
the purse of $3 million dollars. Overshadowing all of those elements was
Paquiao's ability to lift the spirit of the already defeated nation and
people. Hours before the fight, the Philippines and its' people searched
for a light at the end of the tunnel. Pacquiao's victory was the one brief,
shining moment that gave the Filipino people respite from political
troubles and for a moment to proclaim victory as a nation.

In the days that followed, my daughters became die-hard Pacquiao fans
overnight. They watched the replays of the fight the following evenings in
our hotel room at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Makati. After reading
that Pacquiao would be welcomed home to the Philippines with a huge parade
when he arrived on Friday, they wanted to postpone our flight to the U.S.
to be able to witness the event. They even brought a CD of Pacquiao's songs
and T-shirts as souvenirs. They hummed Pacquiao's song, "Para sa Bayan," in
Tagalog, even though they did not understand it.

When we attended the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan two Sundays ago,
we were lucky to have shaken the hands of Philippine President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo. It was sheer luck and coincidence, as she arrived at the
airport at the same time our plane landed. Upon our arrival at the Los
Angeles International Airport last Wednesday, we were told that Manny
Pacquiao and his party were already at the VIP lounge preparing for their
departure for the Philippines.

If my daughters became lucky enough to meet him and shake his hands, it
would in fact be Divine Providence. And as I often believed, God, with His
omni-presence and omni-power, would not waste His time dispensing such
trivial favors. I am grateful enough that my daughters found a new idol,
one that shares the color of their skin. Now I am convinced that they are
indeed proud of being a Filipino. Just like their parents, ancestors, and
hopefully, the future generations of our family. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! - AJ


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