At Large

Pacquiao and the Filipino spirit

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TAIWAN—ONCE again, I found myself in this country during a Pacquiao match. And once again, I came face-to-face with the devastating effect of a defeat for the “National Fist.” First came the stunned silence, and I’m sure the video cameras recording the scene captured the gaping mouths and unbelieving stares of everyone at the sports stadium in Taoyuen, with all eyes focused on the inert body of Manny Pacquiao sprawled face-down on the canvas, his wife Jinkee captured on international TV weeping into the chest of promoter Bob Arum.

Only when Pacquiao finally got up did the crowd, predominantly Filipino, the great majority being overseas workers invited to take part in the “Pamaskong Handog,” did the people stir. It was as if, like the Pacman, we had all taken a blow to the chin, and it took a while for the fact that Pacquiao had been knocked out to sink in. The overwhelming emotion was sadness.

It was as if, as a news report put it, “the Philippines had been hit by another typhoon.”

But unlike last June for the Independence Day celebration, when I walked into another sports arena here only to find sepulchral silence enveloping the crowd after another defeat for Pacquiao, this time the organizers made sure to banish all thoughts of doom and gloom as quickly as they could.

Thus, performers invited to entertain the crowd, led off by the “True Eye Band,” were called to mount the stage and lead everyone’s thoughts away from the Pacman’s loss to the gyrating antics of two female lead singers.

But Amadito Perez, chair of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (Meco) here, soon returned to the subject of Pacquiao. He was walking through the airport hallway, he reported, “when I almost stumbled when I received a text message that Pacquiao was knocked out.” Even in the face of this defeat though, he added, there was plenty of good news to go around.

* * *

ONE OF these was the awarding to Luz “Mommy Luz” Tsai, a Filipino-Chinese who is married to a Taiwanese, of an “Outstanding Overseas Filipino” award in Malacañang. Tsai, who was present at the Christmas program with her husband, is credited with publishing a guide to “Everyday Mandarin” for the use of foreign workers, especially Filipinos, as part of her church apostolate. “What I know is that you should help people without expecting any reward in return,” “Mommy Luz” told the crowd. She was the only awardee from Asia.

Another bit of good news relayed by Perez was the recent visit of Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldos, who was dispatched to Taiwan to engage with talks with her Taiwanese counterparts on the possibility of lowering the recruitment fee charged to Filipino workers. This was done, noted Perez, precisely on the orders of President Aquino, who reminded him to “look into the condition of Filipinos in Taiwan.” At this the crowd erupted into cheers.

“You’re Number One for us,” declared Perez. “Since I began serving here two years ago, the Meco directors and I have only had your welfare in mind.”

* * *

WE HAD a glimpse of that brand of caring the night before, when Meco directors Rosemarie “Baby” Arenas and Jojo Mitra, accompanied by representatives of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Pag-Ibig Fund, and the SSS and Meco staff, visited with the workers of CMC Magnetics Inc., a manufacturer of Blu-Ray discs and DVDs.

Most of the workers there, about 600 of them, are Filipinos, and the ones we met had just ended their 12-hour shift before trooping back to their quarters in dorms in the same building. Arenas and Mitra had brought with them boxed dinners of  adobo  and rice for the workers, along with packs of “Boy Bawang,” a popular snack in the country, T-shirts and pocket calendars.

“We want to know what your problems are and see how we can help,” said Arenas before making the rounds of the tables of workers gathered in the factory canteen. “Don’t think twice about calling Meco and the other offices charged with looking after you,” she added, “it is our government’s goal to see to it that every Filipino lives peacefully and has peace of mind.”

“We are not candidates,” added Mitra, who hails in fact from that storied political family. “We just want to see how we can make things better.” But, he added, he was struck when, while chatting with a small group of male workers and he asked how they were doing, their reply was a simple “surviving.”

After sharing the hotline numbers of OWWA and other relevant offices, the Meco directors and staff then invited everyone to share “how we can improve things for you in Taiwan.”

* * *

ONE message that Arenas shared with the workers was the importance of registering as a voter for next year’s elections, and then taking the time on Election Day to come out and fill up one’s ballot.

“If you don’t vote, then you lose the right to complain,” she reminded the workers. “As voters, you have the right to demand performance from our elected officials and hold them responsible. But if you don’t do your duty, then officials can just ignore you.”

Before leaving, Arenas and Mitra promised to tape the Pacquiao-Marquez fight and send a copy posthaste to CMC Magnetics, so that the Filipino workers there could watch it on their work breaks. But this was at a time when most everyone, but especially Filipinos, was anticipating a decisive Pacman rout.

It could go either of two ways: the sight of Pacquiao lying face down on the canvas could dampen the spirit of Pinoys struggling against lonely, difficult conditions just to “survive”; or the ability of Pacquiao to rise to his feet despite the devastating blow could just spur the rest of his country folk to do even better, wherever they are in this world.

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