COULD MANNY Pacquiao replace Jose Rizal?

The 28-year-old Filipino boxing icon was short of being recognized as a national hero as he was showered with accolade after his WBC International Super Featherweight bout with Mexican fighter Oscar Larios last July 2 at the Araneta Coliseum.

Surely, Pacquiao made the country proud after he displayed his boxing prowess in the 12-round match to defend his title against Larios.

It is interesting how Filipinos admired Pacquiao for his dedication to his sport. His devotion has earned him a reputable boxing career. Filipinos have even identified him as a contemporary hero.

Just recently, this writer received an email containing a manipulated image of a defunct five-peso paper bill showing the face of Pacquiao in place of Emilio Aguinaldo. The flipside of the green-colored bill illustrates a crowd of Filipinos cheering Pacquiao’s fight against Larios instead of the declaration of Philippine Independence in Kawit. The comical bill is an understatement of how Pacquiao has now assumed the status of a national icon.

Although he has not sparked a social revolution like Rizal or Aguinaldo, Pacquiao dedicates his every boxing match to his countrymen—“Para sa’yo (Filipino) ang laban na ’to,” or so he says.

And this means much to Filipinos who are hungry for an icon they could look up to in these times of crisis when corruption and everything bad is prevalent, with about 40 per cent of Filipinos in living destitution, needing a lowly-looking boxer to identify with.

Pacquiao shares two common traits with Rizal, though. His exceptional talents make the country proud and he has his own sycophant crowds and die-hards. But when Pacquiao says, “Magkaisa na tayong mga Pilipino”, he seems unclear on what Filipinos should unite for, unlike the forthright Rizal.

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While Filipinos in Rizal’s time break their backs serving the colonizers, what we have today are millions of modern-day heroes breaking their backs abroad to provide decent living for their families. But this enormous sacrifice of Filipinos and even Pacquiao is not enough for the government to initiate a revolution against our social and economic maladies. At most, the government resolves to overhaul the Constitution, saying this would solve the country’s problems. Worse, politicians angle for photo-ops with Pacquiao, but fall short of true noble service.

Apparently, this country needs more resolute visionaries like Rizal who could inspire and awaken our consciousness as a people.

So, is Pacquiao the next big thing after Rizal? Perhaps. He may not have Rizal’s towering intellect, but he is a living testimony to what the Filipino could achieve if he put his mind and heart—and punch—to it.

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