Warmest welcome for Pacquiao in GenSan
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines—Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao returned home on Monday to a hero’s welcome, lifting the spirits of a nation hobbled by a killer typhoon.
A day after demolishing the American Brandon Rios in a one-sided, 12-round clash in Macau, Pacquiao flew back to General Santos City, where thousands of people jammed the streets and gave him what officials called the “warmest ever” welcome.
“We did not expect so many people would come out,” Pacquiao said at a press conference.
“My victory was not for me, but for all of us,” he also said in Cebuano.
Pacquiao dedicated his fight against Rios to the millions of victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” saying he cried every time he saw videos of the devastation.
The supertyphoon has left almost 7,000 dead and missing after its rampage through the central Philippines.
He said he was happy that the people in Tacloban City—one of the areas in the Visayas region hardest hit by Yolanda—cheered him on during his fight.
Victory for typhoon victims
Pacquiao said he would bring his own helicopter to be used in distributing relief good to remote places that could hardly be reached by relief assistance.
On Tuesday, he plans to meet his staff to decide when to go to Eastern Visayas and what goods to bring to the victims.
“His victory is a big emotional relief for the Yolanda victims,” an avid fan, Jing Eramis, told the Inquirer.
Eramis, one of those who lined up the streets during the motorcade, said she was happy her idol was able to bounce back after successive defeats last year in the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico and the American Timothy Bradley.
Eramis said the warm welcome received by Pacquiao only showed that the Filipino ring idol “is still loved by the people.”
Life without Pacquiao
“Many times in the past, Pacquiao cheered us up. He is still doing it,” Eramis said. “I could not imagine what life would be like when trials or disasters hit us and Pacquiao has already retired.”
Former North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol, a boxing expert, said he was “just happy that Pacquiao was able to redeem himself.”
Piñol watched the Pacquiao-Rios fight in Macau,
A congressman from Sarangani province, the “Pacman” arrived on a chartered plane around 5 p.m. accompanied by his wife Jinkee, mother Dionisia and his boxing team.
He was welcomed by officials of this city and of Sarangani province upon his arrival at the international airport here.
From the airport, the motorcade toured the champion around the main thoroughfares of the city before the group proceeded to the Sarangani provincial capitol, where a program was held.
Just like in past “hero’s welcomes” for Pacquiao, people lined the streets, causing traffic jams, to see the champ.
Monday’s “hero’s welcome” was warmer compared to those before. This was partly because the incumbent officials of General Santos and Sarangani are Pacquiao’s political party-mates.
The city’s new mayor, Ronnel Rivera, ran under the People’s Champ Movement-United Nationalist Alliance, defeating reelectionist Darlene Antonino-Custodio of the administration’s Liberal Party.
In the 2007 elections, Custodio defeated Pacquiao in the race for the congressional seat of the first district of South Cotabato and General Santos.
Nation’s spirit lifted
Vice Mayor Shirlyn Nograles, overall in-charge of the welcome, described it as the “warmest ever.”
“The General Santos officials were in full force at the airport. The students of different schools also waited for his motorcade to pass by,” Nograles said.
“It’s obviously the people’s way of thanking him for lifting the spirit of the nation and for serving as an inspiration and a symbol of hope, especially for Yolanda victims,” Nograles added.
When the typhoon hit the Visayas, Pacquiao was already in a training camp at General Santos, and while his first instinct was to abandon camp and go to the affected areas to help, he was talked out of it by trainer Freddie Roach who advised him that the best thing he could do for the nation was to win the fight.
“It was very difficult for me, I felt so bad about what happened,” Pacquiao said in Macau after Sunday’s fight. “I wanted to visit there but because of my training I could not, so I was just praying for them and sent my staff to bring them help.
“This fight is for the families and the people affected by the typhoon—I am just happy that God answered my prayer.”
For a brief moment in the devastated city of Tacloban, those who lost their homes, their livelihoods and loved ones in the storm were able to forget their misery as they watched a free, live broadcast of Pacquiao’s stunning win.
While Pacquiao dedicated the victory to the people, it was also a vitally important victory for personal reasons, restoring a career that appeared on the wane after successive defeats and almost a year out of the ring.
The brutal nature of his knockout loss to Marquez in December last year had many questioning whether Pacquiao—who turns 35 next month—could get back to the status he enjoyed as the world’s pound-for-pound champion around the turn of the decade.
The doubts and the fears quickly subsided as “Pacman” began pummeling Rios in the opening couple of rounds.—With reports from Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon; AFP; and AP