Will he do a Lapid?
Now that he has rung the final bell on his boxing career, Manny Pacquiao has enough time—and mental energy—to rethink his latest run for public office. No, it seems too much to ask that he back out of the Senate race, especially because his candidacy is one of his two main reasons for quitting the sport, the other being his decision to give in to his family’s wish that he hang up his gloves.
“I want to focus on helping my fellow Filipinos,” Pacquiao said repeatedly while doing press for his final match, a unanimous-decision victory in Las Vegas over American Timothy Bradley Jr. It’s a statement we hope he will repeat even more, this time in a private setting, to himself.
There is little room for optimism when judging his political record, if one is to go by his first stint as an elected official. His absences during sessions at the House of Representatives provide more than ample fuel for critics to question how well he served his constituents in Sarangani province in the chamber.
Pacquiao’s colleagues in the House, perhaps wary of the backlash that can come with criticizing a national icon, would often rush to his defense, citing his hectic training schedule as a reason for his absences. He is busy bringing honor to the country, they would say, selling the premise that the glory he earned in the boxing ring was sufficient substitute for his lack of activity as a legislator—blows for laws, as it were.
And the collective joy of a nation over each brutal win may have been enough to deflect the issue a bit.
But Pacquiao has no more fights behind which to hide this time around. This time, a successful run for a Senate seat will be put under heavy scrutiny, the likes of which he may be completely unaware. No longer just a representative of a district, he will be answerable to a much larger, much more demanding, constituency that may not have forgotten his lamentable slur on same-sex relationships.
He will be judged by a public that had tried to dissuade him from embarking on a political career, and, when he did so anyway, urged him not to seek a higher post, and to protect his sporting legacy by remaining a private person (if that’s at all possible for a world champion). Because of how strongly he has been warned that he is unfit for a Senate seat, he cannot hope to do a Lito Lapid—that is to say, ill-equipped, incoherent, a veritable doorstop—during his term. People will want participation from him. People will demand to see him in action during televised inquiries mounted in aid of legislation.
Pacquiao will need to use his newfound free time to prepare for the eventuality of a win. And, in a way, the eventuality of a loss.
A defeat in the Senate race would mean less scrutiny, yes. But there are those who will still judge him by his declaration of wanting to serve the Filipino public. Will his patriotic desire burn as fervently if he loses this run? Or will he be shown up as a mere carnival barker peddling public service dreams as currency for political clout?
There was a better path for Pacquiao to be of service to his less fortunate countrymen, whose plight, he said, is a constant reminder of where he came from. And it isn’t by being, in his promoter’s words, a “one-man social service department” shelling out dole to the long queue constantly making a beeline for his house.
He could have used his name and his popularity to train the spotlight on causes and advocacies that need a crusader to rally support or intervention their way. He could have used the international goodwill he gained as a boxing icon to seek foreign assistance to help ease the conditions of the country’s poorest sectors.
He could have provided the kind of help that does not need an official political title or a big chunk of his personal savings.
But this is the path he has chosen. And in so choosing, he surrendered the one thing he should have stuck to: boxing.
It’s time Manny Pacquiao buckled down to study what he needs to know and do now that he has fully committed to his senatorial run. Forget the rounds, the purses, the prizes, the belts, the pay-per-view-shares, the big-name opponents. This is the biggest fight that he is about to face.
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