For his fans around the world, he is the greatest boxing champion of our time. For fellow Filipinos, he is the humble hero of the masses and pride of the Philippines. But for Sarangani residents in the southern region of Mindanao island, Manny Pacquiao is more than an athlete and living icon: he has been their representative in the Philippine House of Representatives since 2010.
Pacquiao is in the news again after winning the WBO international welterweight title, when he beat Mexican-American Brandon Rios in Macau last Sunday. It was a convincing comeback fight for Pacquiao whose last victory was more than two years ago. Through this win, Pacquiao effectively dismissed all talks of retirement.
In no uncertain terms, Pacquiao said he will continue to fight. In other words, he is still ready to rumble in the boxing arena while performing his duties as legislator in the parliamentary arena. As a boxer, Pacquiao’s legendary skills are known throughout the world and constantly analyzed. But as a legislator, it seems few are commenting about his performance in Congress.
So, is boxer Pacquiao doing well as Congressman Pacquiao?
Pacquiao is now serving his second term as representative of the lone district of Sarangani, a poor province located in the country’s tuna capital. During his first term, he was vice chairperson of three committees for the majority, namely: Millennium Development Goals, Poverty Alleviation, and Youth and Sports Development.
His most important bill seeks the creation of a Philippine Boxing Commission, which would oversee the granting of incentives and financial support to boxing champions. It didn’t pass the legislative chamber but he refiled it this year.
His first speech was surprisingly not about boxing, but rather focused on human and sex trafficking in Mindanao. He asked the government to combat this evil which victimizes the poor including his constituents. It became his principal advocacy, which actually helped in ensuring continued budgetary support for anti-trafficking initiatives. His role was in fact recognized in amending the country’s anti-trafficking law.
Pacquiao further endeared himself to low-income workers when he actively supported a bill that would raise the country’s minimum wage by 125 pesos.
But it was Pacquiao’s opposition to the controversial Reproductive Health bill which probably defined his first term in Congress. He rose several times on the plenary floor either to register and explain his dissenting vote or to debate the sponsor of the measure. His arguments against the bill were compelling and reflected the main points of the Catholic Church, which rejected the bill as anti-family and anti-life. During the debates, however, he was made to like a neophyte, hastily thrown into the ring by the pro-life camp to go up against veteran parliamentarians.
Pacquiao’s political acumen has grown considerably over the years. He suffered a humiliating loss during his first candidacy in 2007 but he quickly recovered from that debacle and won with a wide margin in 2010 and early this year. His local party, which he founded, has achieved significant election victories. His wife is now vice governor of Sarangani.
Like many traditional politicians in the Philippines, Pacquiao has changed party affiliations several times. He still belongs to the majority coalition although he bolted from the ruling Liberal Party last year.
Perhaps because of his numerous commitments as an actor and professional boxing athlete, Pacquiao has not been dutifully attending Congress sessions. Still, many Filipinos have overlooked this fault since they understand that Pacquiao needed to train well and bring glory to the country. In fact, absenteeism is a broader problem for Congress.
As a district representative, Pacquiao was able to provide numerous services to his constituents through his pork barrel allocation. He has endorsed the construction of classrooms, multipurpose buildings, and water supply systems aside from distributing scholarships and livelihood assistance to agrarian villages.
Pacquiao is currently the richest and best known congressman of the Philippines. He is also the most effective morale booster of an institution that has been severely criticized in the past few months because of a corruption scandal involving numerous politicians. But Pacquiao is also an important and unifying leader on the national stage with the ability to inspire. In fact, his recent victory has already uplifted the spirits of thousands of typhoon victims in the Visayas.
Pacquiao’s boxing days are numbered but his political career is just beginning. He is worshipped as a boxer; as a politician-boxer, he evokes both praise and criticism. He is a clean and much admired politician, even if some of his political choices are incompatible with his image as a change advocate. There seems little doubt that he will become a senator in 2016.