By Ronnie Nathanielsz
If the ten minute visit with US President Barack Obama meant anything, its that pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao has transcended the sport of boxing in which he not only carved a name for himself by winning eight world titles in eight different weight divisions but also redeemed the image of the Philippines internationally.
Without a doubt Pacquiao is the most celebrated Filipino athlete of all time and certainly one of the most awarded boxers in history. In fact the fighter whom the respected Larry Merchant early in his career described as a storm racing across the pacific has turned into a whirlwind that has swept every conceivable accolade not just as a fighter but as an established crossover star.
The undeniable truth is that the meeting between Pacquiao and his charming wife Jinkee took place at a time when President Obama was deep into dealing with foreign policy problems in Egypt, Yemen,Jordan and Bahrain and domestically the crucial issue of the budget. By taking time out to welcome Manny to the White House Oval Office in a somewhat troubled time showed just how much respect President Obama had for Pacquiao and most surely the Philippines.
No matter what our differences may be with the United States, the essential friendship between our two nations has been tested time and again. Our two countries have weathered the test based on a history of togetherness and a reservoir of goodwill that cannot be eroded. Indeed, the courtesy shown Pacquiao by President Obama serves as a reinforcement of our bilateral relations and will most certainly endear Obama to millions of Filipinos who already embraced both him and his vision when he ran for president.
Manny showed his maturity and good sense when he discarded any political talk and junked the original advice probably given him by one of his many, less informed and sensitive individuals, to raise the possibility of assistance for Sarangani province which he represents in Congress.
The two men, steeped in the passion for basketball and boxing, clearly felt comfortable with each other as they discussed Pacquiao's May 7 showdown with Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and Obama's undoubted basketball skills. The promise by Obama that he would watch the fight on the Showtime pay-per-view telecast was an incredible boost for the promotion and clearly showed just how much Manny has won the hearts of Americans.
It is truly impossible not to admire Manny and to respect him for his remarkable humility and his compassion and decency towards all of his opponents. Never to our minds has there been a fighter with such class both in and outside the ring and President Obama's decision to welcome Manny to the White House reinforced the classy qualities of both men, each a beacon in his own domain.
When Pacquiao met with US Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid he showed his grasp of major issues as a congressman. His discussions with Reid on the need to approve a bill in the US Congress that would revive the Philippine garment industry was a timely masterstroke. It would enable Philippine garment factories that import textiles from the US and make garments using such imports to enter the American market with no tariff. This would enable us to compete with countries like China whose cheaper products have driven us out of the huge US market and create some 200,000 jobs.
When motorists recognized Manny as he was preparing to cross 17th Street on his way to the White House, shouted his name, waved, took pictures using their cellphone cameras which in the end resulted in a three car accident, it proved beyond any doubt that he is the most recognized athlete in the world and Filipinos should be proud of what he has achieved both for himself and for our country. Manny Pacquiao is truly a hero of our time.