He is the most influential and popular figure in the Philippines. Even the level of popularity, that Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Julio Cesar Chavez attained in their home country pale in comparison.
But why are Filipinos so passionate about Pacquiao? Why give an athlete such a high degree of attention? For Filipinos it is more than Pacquiao and the sport of boxing.
It is the first time that a Filipino has been considered the best at a major sport around the world. For a community with a large number of its young generation still looking for their identity, it has given many of them a figure that they can identify with and help them become proud of being Filipino.
Filipinos are the second largest Asian group in the United States, yet they are the least represented. It’s a joke that shows such as ER did not show any Filipinos. When is the last time you saw a hospital without a Filipino nurse?
Also, Pacquiao’s story of rags to riches gives inspiration to a country whose majority of its citizens are in poverty.
Here is a story of a young man from a broken home, who sold bread on the streets to help his family. If that was not enough, he grew up in an island where violence is part of everyday life.
But with his talent combined with unrivaled determination and work ethic, he was able to overcome all the obstacles thrown at him to become successful. His story is a constant reminder to Filipinos that they control their own destiny no matter what their current status in life is.
But the most significant contribution Pacquiao has given to his countrymen is that he has given them a glimpse of what their nation could be and should be. In a country stricken with poverty, political instability, and violence, as long as Pacquiao is in the ring, the Philippines become a nation united.
When he is fighting, people from the squatters can stand, sit, and cheer side by side with businessmen and executives.
Filipino Muslims can have a beer with their Filipino Christian brothers both with the same prayer, hope and goal. Children in the island of Mindanao can play freely in the streets without the worry of being in the middle of a gun battle.
As with Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson, Manny Pacquiao’s legacy will stand the test of time due to his positive social contributions rather his accomplishments in the ring. Hopefully, the “intellectual” politicians in the Philippines learn from Pacquiao and lead the nation to the right path.