Manny Pacquiao: Boxer Who Packs A Political Punch
When Manny Pacquiao fights, everything in his home country of the Philippines grinds to a halt.
Pacquiao is a world champion boxer, but he's also an elected congressman in the Philippines. The two jobs make him the face of his country and this week, those two worlds met in a way they never had before.
'Manny Packs A Punch'
Rabid fans gathered at Chelsea Piers in New York City to cheer for Manny Pacquiao. One person in the crowd shouted, "Manny packs a punch."
Packs a punch is putting it mildly. Pound-for-pound, Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao is considered the best boxer in the world.
But that's just his day job. Pacquiao isn't just an eight time world-champion boxer. In the Philippines, he's an actor, a platinum-selling musician and a politician.
Ryan Songalia, a N.Y.-based Filipino journalist, puts Pacquiao's celebrity in a cross-cultural perspective.
"In the Philippines, I would say Pacquiao is like Elvis meets Justin Beiber, meets Michael Jordan, meets Bill Clinton," he says.
Pacquiao, the boxer, is holding a press conference to hype up his next fight on March 7, 2011.
One minute he's all boxing; breaking down the speed and power of his next opponent "Sugar" Shane Mosley. The next minute he moves on to politics.
That's the way it is with Pacquiao these days. Ever since he was elected to the Philippines' House of Representatives it's been a balancing act.
He still puts opponents in the hospital. But now he also talks about the need for a hospital back home.
"In my province — Sarangani province — the population is more than half-a-million and we don't have a hospital... imagine that," Pacquiao says.
It's that transition — from Pacquiao, the boxer, to Pacquiao, the politician — that so interests people, including some of the most powerful people in the world.
That's why after the press conference, Pacquiao is off to Penn Station for a train ride to Washington, D.C.
On board the Pacquiao Express, promoter Bob Arum explains his fighter's duel roles.
"He's boxer for me, and his principal attraction is as a boxer," Arum says.
But that's going to change. Pacquiao is 32 years old, which is not young for a boxer, and Arum is not alone in thinking that his fighter could someday become president of the Philippines.
"The boxing career isn't going to last forever and I think he's the kind of person that a country like the Philippines could use," Arum says. "He really has a great desire to help his people, and believe me they need a lot of help."
Arum says he thinks that because he's visited the Philippines and seen the poverty.
Pacquiao believes that because he's lived it.
His family was so poor growing up that his dad killed the family dog to stave off starvation. And Pacquiao say he doesn't want other people to experience what he did.
"My intention is to help people," he says. "Nobody can erase that."
Pacquiao has given away much of the money he's won boxing — buying coffins for his town after typhoons and putting hundreds of kids through school.
Arum says the Philippines have one welfare system: Manny Pacquiao. But Pacquiao says that only goes so far.
"If you want to get involved with these people, to really help people, especially in the Philippines, you have to enter politics to help them."
Pacquiao At The Capitol
Which brings him to Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Capitol.
He's here to meet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose home state of Nevada gathers a lot of revenue from the sport of boxing. But Pacquiao's influence allows him to meet somebody else.
"I try not to bother the president, but I bothered him on this occasion because I felt that the president should acknowledge this man and the enthusiasm that people here in America have for him," Reid says.
Washington, D.C., and a meeting with President Obama? It's all new to Pacquiao the politician.
And so is being introduced on the Senate floor by Harry Reid:
"I'm going to take a few moments to talk about a friend of Nevada and a friend of mine. His name is Manny Pacquiao."
It's not quite the high-decibel intro he's used to. But Pacquiao understands that to help the Philippines, he can pack more of a punch in politics than he ever did in boxing. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.