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Manny Pacquiao: The Fight of His Life 

Boxer goes for his greatest win yet — congressman

Thursday, Mar 11 2010

Page 6 of 7

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."


click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON - Pound for pound, the world's greatest fighter

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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.

"Yes," the boxer says, voice soft, brown eyes downcast, when asked if he worries about the corruption. "There is money in the government. The problem is that it does not reach the people. That is why they are suffering. We need a leader who is sincere and clean to help the country. As long as that leader is truly sincere and truly wants to help, there is hope. I always pray to God that I will be able to help the people."

Could it be so simple? It is never simple.

He felt fine about losing the first election. Not betrayed. Not angry. Just "okay." He says, "It's part of the game. There's a winner, there's a loser. Maybe that was not the right time. Because if I had won, I would not have had big fights like the De La Hoya fight, Hatton fight or Cotto fight." Sitting in the Wild Card's minuscule, bare-bones dressing room, Pacquiao wraps his hands with the white tape. Asked if he wants to be president someday, he smiles. "For now, congressman."

For all his generosity, the fighter needs to win. When he fights, it is said that violence and crime plummet in the Philippines. Killers stop killing. Thieves take a break from stealing. A nation stops to watch. It pulls together, despite itself.

"If that's true, I'd fight every day," says the boxer, already sounding like a leader.

Ask him who is a smarter fighter, Muhammad Ali or Pacquiao, and Roach, who has no wife or children of his own, and who calls Pacquiao his finest work — his "son" — will think for a minute before admitting it is Ali. Ali was more creative. He did everything wrong, but he still won. Pacquiao, however, is a far better student. He does everything right. Pacquiao won't fight after this year, Roach speculates. He has nothing left to prove.

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