“The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.” — Blaise Pascal
By Alex P. Vidal
Ilonggo fans were among those who cheered heartily and prayed hard for Rep. Manny Pacquiao, 35, to regain his WBO welterweight title from previously unbeaten Timothy Bradley Jr. last April 12.
Aside from being a sports celebrity, Ilonggos remember Pacquiao (56-5, 38 KOs) both as a “sympathizer” and “friend.”
When typhoon “Frank” ravaged Iloilo in 2008, Manny Pacquiao, fresh from 9th round TKO against David Diaz for WBC lightweight title in Las Vegas on June 28, 2008, went straight to Jaro district in Iloilo City to donate cash for typhoon victims through Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, then president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
His presence bouyed the spirits of Ilonggos who identify themselves with the puglist who speaks pure Hiligaynon whenever he is in the Visayas and Mindanao.
I speak to Pacquiao in Hiligaynon and he answers in Hiligaynon. I don’t speak Tagalog when I converse with Pacquiao so he can easily recognize me. In fact, he is surrounded by Hiligaynon-speaking staff. Among them are Ben Delgado, a former assistant trainer, and Danny Halibas, caretaker of his apartment in La Brea, Los Angeles.
I personally bade goodbye to Pacquiao in his vehicle at the parking lot of Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino the night he dismantled Diaz, telling him I could not join with the entourage in going back to L.A. the following day, June 29, because I would fly to Laredo, Texas. Before the Diaz duel, Pacquiao announced he wanted to go to Iloilo City to help the typhoon victims. I could not make it also to Iloilo City as I would be in L.A. by that time, I quipped.
As I walked inside the hotel and was already about 20 meters away, Alex Oreto, Pacquiao’s driver, who works as hospital instrument technician in L.A., loudly called me to comeback: “Tokayo Alex, tinatawag ka ni Manny (Tokayo Alex, Manny is calling you).”
When I went back to Pacquiao’s vehicle, he handed to me several crumpled $100 bills without much ado.
“Sa iyo ‘to (This is for you). Happy trip,” he quipped, grimacing in pain from a broken left fist he used to steamroll Chicago-based Diaz. I thanked the champ and left without counting the crumpled papers.
I never asked anything from him, but it was probably his own way of saying “thank you” for all the articles I wrote about him since I started covering his fights in the United States. My stories were not for sale. No strings attached. It was heartily-given by an ebullient champion.
In Iloilo City, he gave interviews to reporters and met with church leaders and city officials. Pacquiao showed his concern for typhoon victims not only by donating cash, but also by telling them he felt sad when he heard about the destruction and damage wrought by the howler on properties and infrastructures. When he was not yet a superstar, Pacquiao surreptitiously honored an invitation by then Guimbal mayor and now Iloilo first district Rep. Oscar “Richard” Garin Jr. to go to Guimbal, Iloilo, 30 minutes ride from Iloilo City, together with Cebu promoter Sammy Gello-ani, to grace a small-time professional boxing event in 2006.
When Pacquiao fought Antonio Margarito for WBO 147-lb belt in Arlington, Texas on Nov. 13, 2010, I saw Mayor Garin in the lobby of Gaylord Hotel waiting for his complimentary ringside ticket. “I was invited by Manny to watch his fight,” Garin told me when I asked him why he was there.