Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Pacman and the Filipino

LEST I be misunderstood, my interest in writing about Manny Pacquiao has really nothing to do with his celebrity status as a boxer. My interest is in what his relationship with Filipinos worldwide tells us about ourselves. It is beyond dispute that Manny Pacquiao, especially when he goes into big fights, effectively unites Filipinos behind him, whatever their language, place of origin, politics, religion or gender. For example, I found it more than interesting that the known terrorist Basit Usman even made himself vulnerable to an assassin’s bullet when he stopped to check on Manny Pacquiao’s ‘Fight of the Century’ at which Manny Pacquiao’s champion status was likewise assassinated, as it were, by Mayweather’s smarter defensive and evasive skills as well as dirty tactics. The resulting defeat by the Pinoy icon was as resounding as the collective disbelief and grief of ordinary Filipinos. Initially Pacman himself objected, saying he thought he won the fight but later admitted that, although he did his “best”, his “best was not good enough” at least to the judges and the computer stats.
What I find striking is how Filipinos identify with the Pacman in his victories and also in his defeats. There is no dearth of real heroes in the Philippines, what with so many official ones in history’s textbooks and unofficial ones in OFWs etc. in addition. But no one among them has achieved the celebrity status of a Manny Pacquiao in such a sensational and spectacular fashion, especially when we consider his dramatic rise from a “starving street kid” to one of the world’s highest paid and highest earning athletes. His victories over bigger and stronger foes were nothing short of incredible. But it is perhaps because he used to be as poor as most Filipinos that they feel one with him
As a priest I find it remarkable how his real Christian name ‘Emmanuel’ is hardly not seen for its symbolic value. Translated even in the gospels as “God-is-with-us” I see in the phenomenon called Emmanuel Pacquiao God’s way of grabbing our attention to his presence in our midst. That the original ‘Emmanuel’ himself went through disappointing, dismaying and violent defeat especially in his crucifixion on his way to his resurrection is, to my mind, somewhat dramatized in Pacman’s defeats and rising-again victories. Not that I’m predicting that he would rise again by defeating another foe or foes in a blaze of glory before he hangs up his gloves. A greater victory than one in the ring would perhaps be his victory over the politics of corruption and patronage in which he himself is sometimes inevitably entangled. The victory that he could help achieve with greater impact would be over the excruciating poverty and social injustice among his own constituents and in the very country that immensely idolizes him.
Again as a priest I hope and pray for another distinct victory: That Pacman overcomes the distorted view of the Catholic faith (in which he grew up) that he might have received from his non-Catholic friends as well as from unenlightened Catholics around him (alas, it could include Mommy D too). His abandonment of the rosary and the sign of the cross before his every fight has certainly earned him a lot less sympathy from priests, bishops and conscientious Catholics who look at it as caving in to the distortion of ‘Mariolatry’ from his influential non-Catholic pastor friends. It also considerably lessened the number of those who pray for him, not excluding the upright ones who are already in heaven whose prayer, if he is to believe St. James, “is powerful with God” (Jas. 5:16). I am hoping that Pacman does not distort, with his friends, the valid veneration of Mama Mary and the saints and call it worship that it is not. As long as that victory is not achieved, defeat at the hands of Mayweather can only point to an ongoing inside defeat he suffers from.
Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Old Man and the Sea once wrote:
”But man is not made for defeat. He can be destroyed but not defeated.”
Is this the reason why Manny Pacquiao, with fellow Pinoys supporting him, has not really accepted his defeat at the hands of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.? It is hard to say. But in my book both fighters have really suffered defeat at the hands of pride: Pacman when he predicted he could easily beat Mayweather and the latter when he continually touts Pacman as not within his league and can easily defeat him again and again in as many times as they might hypothetically meet in the ring. Pride is the great blindfold. Pacman’s prior prediction of victory blinded him to the strengths of his foe; Mayweather’s basking in self-glorification blinds him to his ‘hugging’ and ‘running’ dirty tactics, among others.

I agree with H. W. Beecher who said that “defeat is a school in which truth always grows stronger.” And the truth that we must let grow stronger is this: The hero is really not out there in someone like Pacman but in ourselves whenever the values that define who we are define the way we live.