23rd November: London. In this exclusive two-part documentary for BBC World Service, presenter Mike Costello travels to the Philippines to meet boxing legend, eight times world champion, politician and national hero, Manny Pacquiao. Costello catches up with Manny at the gym ahead of his recent fight with Antonio Margarito, meeting with his old friends and trainers, as well as Filipino analysts, economists and politicians, to discuss boxing, God, politics and the inspiration one man can give to a nation..
Manny’s rags to riches story of a small town boy who, as a child, sold doughnuts in the streets to feed his family, is seen as an inspiration to millions of Filipinos. Professor Alex Magno, renowned political scientist and academic, commenting upon Manny’s rise to boxing stardom and possible political fame said, “He’s like the male Cinderella, the ugly duckling who’s wearing diamonds around his neck. He holds the eternal promise the last will be first and the poor will be saved.”
Meeting with Buboy Fernandez, Manny’s childhood friend, Costello was given a rare insight in to his and Manny’s life together as children on the streets of General Santos. “I cry…I sleep with a small box, carton. If the water get high tide, my home’s gone, just like the water here and then we sleep in trees…Manny’s thinking for dreaming. He said, ‘someday I’m going to be a champion and if I success my career I come back here and then bring you.’ And Manny did return for Buboy, now his right hand man and Filipino trainer. “It’s too much for me that he taking me from the down to bring me up…The first time that I sleep in the big room is MGM. And then Manny said, ‘Eh come on now, see this presidential suite.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re going to put here a basketball court.”
Talking of his career Manny said, “I love the Filipino people and I’m not only doing this for myself, for family, but I’m doing this also because of the honour of our country and the honour of the Filipino people.” Discussing his fears before a fight he said, “My fear is if I forget to pray to God – that’s my fear. But as I always pray to God and believe in God, I don’t have fear. I live my life like every day’s the last.”
But Manny’s ambitions are now very much divided between the arenas of boxing and politics. Recently appointed as congressman in his home province of Sarangani and holding over ten committee memberships, including Vice Chairperson of the of the Millennium Development Goals, now coach, Freddie Roach talks of Manny’s fierce political ambitions. “Manny came up to me and he said, I miss my job. And I looked at him and I says, you’re at your job, and he says no, I miss congress, and I says, you know what? We’re going to lose him to politics for sure, someday soon.”
However, in a country steeped in alleged political corruption and a congress already full of film and television personalities, many are more reserved about Manny’s move into politics.
Alex Magno: “Pacquiao I think will try very hard to make a difference, but in the end unless he’s part of a reformist political party, or he speaks for a new generation of leaders, he won’t matter. He’ll be the pretty face, the likeable popular guy, the people’s champion, but the system will go on as usual.”
Freddie Roach, however, is more optimistic: “The only welfare system they have in the Philippines right now is Manny Pacquiao. In front of his house on Christmas day there’s over 5,000 people who are waiting for him to give rice and food and so forth so they can survive…He came from a bad life, he knows what it’s like to be poor, he knows what it’s like to go buy doughnuts for 5 cents and sell them on the street for ten cents, just so he can eat. I think he’s going to be very good at his job.”
Transmission times: UK: Friday 26th November, 09.06, 12.06, 15.06, 20.06 GMT, Saturday 27th November 13.06 GMT.
Australasia: Thursday, 25th November, 23.06 GMT, 26th November 04.06, 11.06, 16.06, GMT.
The documentary will be available to listen to online Friday 26th November at the following link: