Manny Pacquiao has proved he punches above his weight in the political arena too, with the champion boxer set to take a Philippines Congress seat from the family that’s ruled their impoverished area of Mindanao for years.
Pacquiao’s celebrity status and wealth look likely to have helped him defeat Roy Chiongbian, the brother of the retiring congressman. Chiongbian describes his parents as “the father and mother” of Sarangani province, where average incomes are less than $1 a day. Pacquiao leads by a margin of more than 2-1, an early tally of results shows.
Pacquiao campaigned on a pledge to turn around the region’s economy, drawing on his rags-to-riches story as a champion of the poor to oust the incumbent. Mindanao, where the U.S. military is fighting a Muslim insurgency, was the scene of a massacre of 57 people last year in which a ruling clan was suspected to have attacked members of a rival family.
Families like the Chiongbians “are the equivalent of the people who ruled over vast armies of serfs,” said Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum, who flew to the Philippines last week to help the campaign. They are “the reason why the Philippines, which should be economically, socially, one of the top, top countries in Asia is still a third-world country.”
Chongbians said in an April 28 interview that Pacquiao should stick to what he does best: “When he tried to be an actor, his movie flopped. When he tried to be a singer, that didn’t work.” He wasn’t available to comment today.
Next up, Pacquiao is seeking to challenge Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- or another fighter if the U.S. boxer won’t agree on terms, Top Rank Inc.’s Arum, who served as a White House attorney before moving into boxing after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, said in a May 9 interview. Arum said he would start negotiations for a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight as early as this week when he returns to the U.S.
A fight between Pacquiao, 31, holder of the World Boxing Organization welterweight title, and undefeated American Mayweather would be among the sport’s biggest draws, pairing two fighters ranked as the top two pound-for-pound boxers by The Ring magazine. Talks for the bout collapsed earlier this year when the two sides couldn’t agree on drug-testing procedures.
Pacquiao grew up in poverty in General Santos City in the adjoining province of South Cotabato, where he lost a 2007 bid for a Congress seat. He stood on a platform of improving schools, hospitals and welfare in Sarangani.
“What the province needs is a sincere politician who wants to help and will help,” Pacquiao, 31, said in an April 26 interview.
Pacquiao fared better in the election than the candidate he supported for president, property tycoon and Senator Manuel Villar, who conceded defeat today as he trailed third in the tally of votes behind Senator Benigno Aquino.
Pacquiao had urged voters to support Villar, who built a fortune estimated at $530 million by Forbes, because he “came from a poor family.”
In the region where Pacquiao’s Sarangani province is located, only 42 percent of the 1,303.91 kilometers of road are made of concrete, with only 18 percent of the entire network considered in good condition, the Department of Public Works website shows. That’s in spite of the region’s rich resources, including Xstrata Plc’s Tampakan copper mine project, Southeast Asia’s largest untapped deposit of the metal.
Lack of infrastructure reinforces the poverty that helps fuel rebellion, according to the United Nations. Mindanao is home to Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda, and some members of the communist New People’s Army. Both groups are on the U.S. watch list for international terror organizations.
Two soldiers, two militiamen and one election worker were ambushed and killed in Compostela Valley province on Mindanao, the military said today. Eleven more people were injured in the attack this morning, Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a military spokesman, said in a phone interview.
Pacquiao had 11,037 votes so far of those tallied, against Roy Chiongbian’s 4,465, Michael Abas, chairman of the provincial board of canvassers said by phone today from Sarangani.
A Pacquiao victory is unlikely to affect his odds of victory over Mayweather, bookmakers said.
“You could argue that he may be drained by the pressures of campaigning, you could equally argue that he will be inspired by his responsibilities to his nation,” Graeme Sharpe, a spokesman for London-based William Hill, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Pacquiao has said a fight with Mayweather would be his last before retiring. If the bout doesn’t come off, Pacquiao will probably face Mexican Antonio Margarito “or somebody else,” Arum said.
If the “biggest boxing fight of all time” doesn’t eventuate, “it will be because of Mayweather, not Pacquiao,” Arum said.
“The one thing he wants, that I want and all of us want, is to do this fight,” Arum said.