PH officialdom as a boxer’s entourage
With no less than President Duterte, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, two congressmen and the former chief of the national police all flying to Malaysia, one would think they were going there for bilateral talks with the recently elected prime minister of that country. But they all went to Kuala Lumpur for one thing: to watch and support a Filipino senator fight a boxer from another country for prize money.
“I think half of the audience are government officials,” joked Sen. Manny Pacquiao after he beat Lucas Matthysse. Turning serious, the senator said the fight was “one of a kind” because of the support he got from government officials.
Indeed, the fight was “one of a kind.” It was between a member of the upper chamber of the Philippine legislature, and a professional boxer from Argentina. There have been many fistfights, even brawls, among members of legislative bodies of several countries, but they stemmed from heated debates on issues of national import. But never in the history of professional boxing has there been a fight between a sitting senator or his equivalent in other countries, and a professional boxer for prize money.
I refer to Manny Pacquiao as senator instead of professional boxer or eight-division world champion because local sportswriters and newscasters and almost everybody else refer to him as such, even when he actually goes up to the boxing ring. Pacquiao himself takes pride in that distinction. In November 2016, before his fight against Jessie Vargas for the world’s welterweight title, he bragged that he would go down in history as the only incumbent senator of any country to win a world title in any sport. He did.
The boxing event was also “one of a kind” in that the senator’s camp included high-ranking public officials. At the weigh-in the day before the big event, former chief of the Philippine National Police and now director of the Bureau of Corrections Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa watched as if he was the head trainer as Pacquiao stepped on the scale. Representatives Bingbong Crisologo and Lito Atienza were also there to witness the weigh-in. Inside Axiata Arena on fight day, Rep. Toby Tiangco jogged alongside the senator on his way to the ring, with the former Ilocos Sur governor, Chavit Singson, close behind.
During the fight, Dela Rosa would rise from his front row seat whenever the senator and Matthysse came toe-to-toe. I wondered if Matthysse had heard that when Dela Rosa was chief of police, drug suspects routinely fell dead if they were said to have resisted (“nanlaban”). Perhaps that was why Matthysse held his vaunted knockout punch and knelt twice before the senator, as if saying “I am not fighting back.”
Mr. Duterte and Cayetano cheered from the stands. In the post-fight press conference, Sotto acted as the senator’s press relations officer.
Upon his return from Malaysia, Pacquiao was given full military honors. As Sen. Koko Pimentel said, “Few Filipinos can claim to have literally shed blood, sweat and tears for our country, and Senator Pacquiao is one of them.”
I rejoice with the Philippine sports world every time Manny Pacquiao triumphs in the boxing ring. As a Filipino, I am proud of Manny Pacquiao the boxer. As a citizen, I am ashamed of Philippine officialdom acting as the boxer’s fight entourage.
True, heads of state attend World Cup games and cheer for their teams whose uniforms carry their country’s name and play to win for country. Pacquiao fights for money. His shorts bear brand names of consumer products.
He is deserving of the warm welcome given him wherever he goes. But he is not worthy of the military honors accorded him, as he does not return from a battlefield where he shed blood for country. An Army officer in full dress holding an umbrella over the casually dressed and bemoustached eight-division world boxing champion to protect him from rain was a travesty of military traditions.
In the post-fight press conference, Sotto said of Pacquiao: “Your victory brings pride to us all.”
High-ranking officials acting as a boxer’s entourage bring shame to Filipinos.
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a retired businessman and management professor.
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