It's difficult to overstate the significance of Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao. As a sportsman, he has no peer and is the only thing left in boxing that even remotely intrigues a generation weaned on the blood lust of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). As a Filipino, he has done more internationally for the pride of his beleaguered country than any person over the past 50 years. Manny Pacquiao is the salvation of a country and of a sport and oddly enough, one begets the other. Globally, he is known as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, perhaps ever. Locally, he is Congressman Pacquiao representing the province of Sarangani.
Pacquiao is the closest thing to invincible that boxing has ever seen and, yes, I am sober. You name them: Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. Pacquiao is the first fighter in history to win 10 world titles in eight different weight classes.
Take a second to digest that. He has taken on all comers and almost always been the smaller man. In his latest conquest last weekend, fighting as a super welterweight against Antonio Margarito, Pacquiao gave up 14cms and 7.7kgs to his opponent. The size disadvantage was thought to be the only thing that might make this bout compelling viewing and for a round or two it was. After that Pacquiao simply slapped Margarito silly, eventually fracturing his opponent's orbital bone and sending him to hospital. By the eighth round Pacquiao was pleading with the referee to stop the fight but the machismo of Margarito and his trainer would, sadly, not allow it and the fight went the full 12 rounds.
Afterwards, Pacquiao admitted he held back somewhat. 'Boxing is not for killing,' he said. 'I did not want to damage him permanently. That's not what boxing is about.'
Had Pacquiao been born in St Louis, Missouri, instead of Bukidnon province in the deep south of the Philippines, the hyperbole would be insufferable. However, if he beats Floyd Mayweather Jnr in one of the most highly anticipated and lucrative fights yet, there would be little debate; Pacquiao would be crowned pound for pound the greatest fighter of all time. And then, hopefully, Pacquiao could get out of boxing with his wits intact to make an impact on his true passion, helping the people of the Philippines. 'I would not be a politician if it wasn't for my popularity in boxing,' Pacquiao admitted. 'So yes, boxing is my first love, but I'm in politics to help my people and make a difference when I finish boxing.'
Pacquiao is 32. He has a few more massive paydays in him and the more money he pockets the better so that, by the time he becomes president of the Philippines, his fortune will be so vast he will be incorruptible. He knows living in squalor, he knows abject poverty and he knows that most of his countrymen deal with those conditions on a daily basis. Despite being forced to drop out of school at 14 to help his family, he has been vigilant about getting a proper education. I can't think of a person better prepared to truly tackle the plight of Filipinos than Pacquiao. What he lacks in political savvy, he makes up for in genuine compassion and absolutely nobody can unify the country like he can. It's a tall order for sure but watch the ease with which Pacquiao handles being a global icon and you start to believe he could be, well, the chosen one. And man, does his country need him.
You don't have to look far around Hong Kong to understand the plight of Filipinos globally. There are about 150,000 domestic helpers from the Philippines working here, many in abysmal conditions. I don't want to be hypocritical or overly pious. I have had some domestic helpers who have stolen from me and I have had some that did not. I have had some who can be cold and calculating and others who have been generous and trustworthy. I have stepped around legions of Filipino helpers over the years on their one day off a week in Central and Causeway Bay with a look of genuine impatience on my face and a misguided sense of entitlement in my soul. I rail against the discrimination, then turn around and indulge in it. It's hardly a source of self-pride but it is what it is.
The truth is, there is an element of desperation in the life of Filipinos both here and at home that is completely incomprehensible to someone of my comfortable background. But I do have many Filipino friends and what I know is that most don't want your sympathy. They just want a chance.
Some of the Philippines' best and brightest, many ridiculously well educated, are working 70 hours a week around here, scrubbing your toilets and changing your children's diapers. If Pacquiao can get them closer to home so they can actually watch their own children grow up and forge a life of their own - one that is not dependent on the whims of the Lord Master and Mistress of the Household up on The Peak or over in Jardine's Lookout - then there is absolutely nothing he could do in the boxing ring that would ever compare.
Yeah, I know, this all sounds like a whole bunch of idealistic yammering. Such is the depth of the familial and political corruption in the Philippines that nothing short of a massive revolution could change it. Pacquiao's best work is clearly still in front of him, regardless of how he does against Mayweather.