It’s about time someone spoke out on Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao’s considered priorities. “I wish he’d be more involved here,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. was quoted as telling reporters last Wednesday in reference to the congressman and his duties at the House of Representatives. The Speaker made the point after noting Pacquiao’s recent debut as professional basketball playing coach, which he made while in training for his title fight with American Chris Algieri next month in Macau.
That Pacquiao is overstretched is a reasonable conclusion. Apart from his not inconsiderable duties as a member of the House of Representatives, he is currently occupied with holding his footing as world eight-division boxing champ, if not stealing time to indulge his passion for basketball; as well, he is into chess (cockfighting and billiards are supposedly past loves), sings with a band, and dabbles in acting. Not least, he is a husband and father, is active in his church, and is a spokesperson for the virtues of disaster preparedness.
The list can run the most able-bodied man ragged, but the champ appears none the worse for wear. But that’s only if the way he looks were the sole measure of his stamina. If one were to take his measure in terms of the formidable roles he has taken on, would the results be as impressive, as good-looking?
For example, notwithstanding the hosannas by the inevitable chorus that sings to him in his every foray, his debut as pro basketball playing coach was less than spectacular, and the attentive observer would wonder why the time and effort were not put instead in his training for the fight with Algieri. Again, his handlers appear to have been too indulgent: What if, revved up by the heady public anticipation of his performance on the hard court, he met with a grave injury (despite Freddie Roach’s appeal to other players not to “hurt” him)? That would have unnecessarily set back his preparations for the Macau bout. Roach’s ward can of course be cavalier about training and still emerge a winner, adding to his down-home, aw-shucks charm. But often, risk-taking is great only on hindsight, and lack of focus has more than once been Pacquiao’s undoing.
For another, and more important, example, Pacquiao’s performance as second-term representative of Sarangani, which continues to rank among the top poorest provinces in the country, is hardly stellar. It is reported that he was a no-show 60 of 168 session days in the 15th Congress, and 38 of 69 session days so far in the current Congress—hardly a surprise, with the training for his boxing bouts taking two-three months. He has, to be sure, authored a number of bills now pending in various House committees since 2010 and 2013, but his entry into lawmaking, particularly for the benefit of his constituents, has yet to bear visible fruit. He has yet to demonstrate what he has learned, if any, about true public service since he first took office in 2010.
Rather, Pacquiao’s rise to prominence—actually a remarkable narrative that can inspire young people in similar straitened circumstances—has been largely marked by the worst in traditional politics. In the company of patrons, warlords and hangers-on, he took the trail blazed by those who invoke popularity as the sole qualification for public office. With his vast personal fortune, he has perpetuated the mentality of the “balato” and the dole. As though it were part of the territory (and in these parts, it certainly is), he has begun building a political dynasty that so far includes his wife as vice governor of Sarangani and his two brothers and a sister-in-law as barangay councilors and captain, respectively, in their hometown of General Santos.
And he has made noise about seeking the presidency. Those who shudder at the thought are not comforted by the fact that he is too young to seek the top post, or even the one next to it. The latter idea was suggested only recently when Vice President Jojo Binay, beleaguered by corruption charges raised in a Senate inquiry, showed up at Pacquiao’s turf and was duly hosted and escorted around by the champ. It appeared as though they were surefire running mates in 2016, and Binay was not exactly quick to shoot down the notion.
Suggestion, like imagery, is a powerful thing. It’s said Pacquiao would next gun for a seat in the Senate. Once upon a time, Sen. Lito Lapid arrived at an official ceremony on horseback, evoking his onscreen hero persona. Good show, but what simmers now in the public memory is nothing heroic, possibly only the Lapid family’s profitable quarrying business. Pacquiao, the fondly termed “National Fist,” should know his limitations.
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