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What is it with this boxer, with his steel hands and soft heart? People imagine he sings rap, but Pacquiao loves ballads. He belts out an earnest, karaoke-bad rendition of "Sometimes When We Touch" on The Jimmy Kimmel Show, making the American band members smile. Pacquiao is endearing. A big, goofy kid ... who could crush your skull with his bare hands. You want to hug him. Which Kimmel actually does, stepping out from behind the desk.
Pacquiao's movie Wapakman has just come out in Manila. In it, he plays an ordinary man who becomes a superhero. He battles a giant crab and a woman with ultrasonic breasts.
"What are Wapakman's powers?" Kimmel asks.
"Everything," answers Pacquiao, grinning.
Early morning. Roach shivers in the cold air. Talking about Pacquiao at this moment in time, at his peak, suffuses the coach with pride. "He thinks now. He sees openings and makes the right moves. When he was younger he was wild and reckless, just trying to get lucky. Now, there's no luck involved."
Pacquiao in his prime sets up punches, walks his opponents into shots, counterpunches to take advantage of his incredible speed. He is no longer just a kid going out there and swinging. He has mastered the sweet science of seeing what's happening, and slowing it down.
"It's a very difficult thing to do," Roach murmurs as people scoot by him on the gym stairs, say hello, bump fists — the boxer's handshake. "I never achieved that in my career because I never was that settled. I just would fight hard. I can see it now. Back then I was too anxious about beating the other guy up. You have to be calm in the heat of combat. From round one to round 12, you learn the whole way. And hopefully, somewhere in there, you've figured him out ... and that's where you knock him out."
Pacquiao, Roach thinks, can do more for his country as a boxer than as a politician. "But that's me looking at it from the outside. Manny wants to make his country better. The politicians that are there now don't seem to want that. They just take care of themselves from what I can see. Because every politician I've ever met in the Philippines is doing well. Everyone else is poor."
Roach suspects that half of the people in the Philippines will hate Pacquiao if he enters government, and half will like him. And Pacquiao's not used to that. He's used to being loved.
"He likes the idea of it. Hopefully he doesn't become corrupt."
People give him their hearts, but will they give him their votes? Pacquiao lost his first bid for congress in the town where he grew up, General Santos City, in 2007. Team Pacquiao railed at his opponent, incumbent Darlene Antonino-Custodio. She trounced the boxer by a large margin. Votes were bought, they said. The purchase price, though, could not have been cheaper: The popular joke in the country was, "Ask 10 Filipinos if Manny Pacquiao should be in politics, and 11 will tell you no."
They say he will die not in the ring but by the gun. That a man of few words is ill-suited for political life. Why lower himself into that dirty world, with its subterfuge and smooth talking? Where disagreements are settled in secret with bullets but hardly ever out in the open with fists? His people are cynics. But they are also dreamers. They want their hero to stay pure. To keep beating down the world and raising them up.
Politics will be hard for Pacquiao, Campos believes. "It's not like boxing, where you know how the opponent moves," he explains. "In that side of the world, there are powerful political dynasties that control everything."
In November the bodies dropped. In South Mindanao, one province over from Pacquiao's hometown, shortly before the filing deadline for the upcoming general elections, a convoy of one political family was massacred on their way to deliver their candidate's paperwork. The candidate sent his women relatives, trusting they wouldn't be harmed. He was wrong.
Civilians, lawyers, journalists, the candidate's sister and wife fell to the ground, tortured, shot and beheaded, 57 in all. Killers tossed bodies into shallow graves. They left others bleeding on the ground next to their cars. Incumbent Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. was suspected. "How dare they challenge the ruling clan?" was the sentiment.
It was the worst instance of political violence in the country's history, turning the Philippines into a more dangerous place for journalists than Iraq.
"I don't know if something like that could happen with Manny," says security man Peters, frowning. "It's hard to say." Even if it is written into Philippine law that the army will go to Pacquiao's aid if his family is in danger, with the possibility of kidnappings ever-present, Peters carries an AR-15 machine gun while there with the boxer. In the South Mindanao provinces, where Pacquiao lives, even the bodyguard needs bodyguards.
On May 10, Pacquiao will run for congress in Sarangani Province, where his wife, Jinkee, grew up. The family of his opponent, shipping magnate Roy Chiongbian, has been entrenched in the region for decades.
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