By Teresa R. Tunay, OCD
Feb. 10, 2005
I'm not a boxing fan. I don't relish fights—cock fights, dog fights, horse fights, salagubang fights—least of all people fights. So I'm not into boxing, really. But it's not everyday one gets the chance to shake hands with a boxer—a world champion at that—who makes the sign of the cross and kisses the rosary before entering the boxing ring. In fact, his posters depict him with arms raised in victory, and proudly wearing a rosary around his neck—so proudly that I'd wish certain priests would do the same with their Roman collar.
So when Manny Pacquiao's path and mine crossed in Davao, I gladly accepted his agent's invitation for me to meet him. My hosts insisted that Pacquiao—or any world champion for that matter—would make good copy anytime. And they're right.
But I wasn't interested in Pacquiao's being a boxer per se, or in his being material for a good story, curious though I was of what makes this diminutive Filipino such a giant in his chosen career. My intent was more "devilish." I was after his soul, so to speak. I aimed to probe his psyche. Why the rosary? Did this world boxing champion know that he's sort of serving the Church by his devotion to it, wearing it in his posters for all the world to see? Or is the rosary something of an amulet for him? I was just curious, dead curious.
And so we met. I was rather disappointed that his handshake was not bone-crushing at all, but a very gentle, almost shy one, like his smile. I had also expected him to be somehow image conscious, taking care what to say to media people, after all he's undoubtedly a celebrity's celebrity now, the Philippines' prime export. But no—this one is not a publicist's creation, and I discovered it doesn't take much to make the guileless Pacquiao open up. Just eyeball-to-eyeball contact and naked goodwill on my part. What I uncovered in my "probe" was an uplifting surprise: boxing can be a very spiritual thing, if done Pacquiao's way. Here, let me share with you a piece of the champion's soul.
TRT: What have been the most important lessons life has taught you?
MP. First, that I should have trust and faith in Him. Una iyan. Tiwala sa kanya, at saka pananalig. Kung wala Siya, wala rin ako.
Second, that I must have self-discipline. Boxing is no laughing matter. You never know what awaits you when you climb up the ring. Pagpasok mo sa ring baka mamatay ka na, walang nakakaalam niyan. O kaya malumpo ka. You could come out of it a vegetable, or a corpse. And it calls for intense practice, you cannot take it for granted. Dapat, sa Diyos ka umasa at magtiwala, tapos sabayan mo ng disiplina sa sarili. Always pray. Through my faith in Him, I have been able to lift my family out of poverty.
TRT: What particular areas in life do you most need self-discipline on?
MP: My health. No late nights. Walang puyat-puyat. Walang gimmick. I should be in bed and asleep by 8 or 9; up by 5, rise, run for an hour. I should watch what I eat, too: vegetables, fruits, fish—palagi kong ulam iyan! I hardly eat meat, and when I do it should be fat free, inaalis yung taba bago iluto. Likewise, milk should be low-fat or skimmed. My food should be easy-to-digest because I have to remain alert.
I religiously practise at one o'clock noon; I just follow my doctor's advice, he knows best, and I don't cheat. No advice from any expert will work if you don't have self-discipline. Even if somebody's guarding you, if you don't control yourself, all the good advice will amount to nothing.
TRT: Besides food and exercise, where else in your lifestyle would self-discipline prove invaluable?
MP: Sex. Sex is absolutely a no-no when I'm getting ready for a fight, which could run on for two, three months. Walang siping iyan. That's a regulation in boxing. Sex weakens you. In fact, some boxers are done in by their opponents' camp by using women as bait. Pinapainan sila ng kampo ng kalaban ng magandang babae bago sila lumaban They send you an irresistible woman the night before the fight—if you have no self-discipline, if you are weak, kakagat ka sa pain, you'll be easily tempted, and that's the end of you.
TRT: But how can you endure that?
MP: In whatever matter, when sacrifice is called for, one has to be patient. If it's food, I just don't look at it anymore. Our eyes are our Number One source of temptation. Lechon, masarap yun! Rich food? Of course, they all taste good, but if looking at them will just make me drool over them—pag tiningnan ko pa sila, maglalaway lang ako—so why should I look? So I refuse to look. Ganon din sa babae. Sino bang lalaki ang ayaw ng babae? (Same thing with women. What man would not want a woman?) But if looking at them would just make me long for sex, why should I look? Self-control is necessary; I just cover my eyes with blinders, parang sa kabayo.
Kaya pag sinabi ng trainer ko, masama, masama. Hindi ko na kinukwestyon yun. Masunurin ako eh. Hindi ko na iniisip yung masarap na mawawala sa akin, dahil magapapahirap lang sa akin dun sa mabuting gusto kong gawin. (If my trainer says it's bad, then it's bad. I don't question that anymore. I'm obedient. I don't think anymore of the pleasure that I'll miss, because it will only make it harder for me to do the good I want to do).
TRT: You're trying to say that when you have a goal in life, you should take care not to put anything between you and that goal. But what about your wife? You're not alone in this, and she's still young…
MP: My wife understands that and is supportive when it comes to sacrifices. She knows that my foremost concern is to excel at what I'm doing. She knows it's for her and my kids that I do it. Para sa pamilya ko. And she sees the results of discipline—it is love in action. Love should be proven with action, not just with words, especially in marriage; actions must be constant proofs of love through years of togetherness.
I must admit that sometimes my wife gets jealous of my work, but I'm patient, we both persevere, for our children, the family. I want my family to be proud of me, for my wife and my children to be able to say that I am a good husband and father.
TRT: Now that you've lifted your family comfortably out of poverty and provided for their secure future, is there anybody else you would want to help out?
MP: Oh yes! I help support sports in general, not just boxing. We conduct regular tournaments, like National Manny Pacquiao Cup for billiards… We have "pa-boxing" too, usually on my birthday, in Gen San where we invite boxers from Davao, for example, to participate.
There is also the Manny Pacquiao Sports Foundation, established four years ago, to develop youth boxers, to give benefits to retired boxers iyung mga nalaos na tulad ni Navarrete, etc; to provide scholarships to boxers' children; to build a sports center not only for boxing but also for tennis, bowling, track and field, swimming, basketball.
TRT: With all those things you want to do for others, have you considered entering politics?
MP: No, not yet…. I'm not thinking of politics at all. I just want to help, to support sports, because that could help solve the country's problems like drugs, etc. Young people turn to vices because they are not given direction, they are not productively engaged. It's a waste of energy—sayang ang lakas nila, naliligaw sila!
In sports you'll definitely forget about vices because your energy will be redirected. When you need to get up early in the morning to run, you'll go to bed early, you will not smoke or drink or do whatever will endanger your health and your life.
TRT: You seem so determined to help your kababayans. Are you that generous?
MP: I just want to help. I support sports because I do not want people to say, upon my retirement, "Ganon lang? Nagpayaman lang?" (That's all? Just made himself rich?)
I pray to have the strength to continue being the best until I retire. I want to be able to continue helping even when I am retired. That may not be very far away... You have to be realistic. Boxers don't last very long; They're done at 30…
TRT: I've had glimpses of some of your fights on TV. You make the sign of the cross before each round... Do you do this to conquer some fear? To calm you down? Or do you really trust God that much? You also wear the rosary when you're proclaimed the winner—and this is for all the world to see on TV. You could be setting an example of faith to your fans--are you aware of this?
MP: (Smiling shyly). I have a deep faith in God. I fear no one. Natatakot lang ako kapag may kasalanan ako. (I feel afraid only when I've sinned). I practice and pray hard because I want to win to make my countrymen happy. I'm happy to make them happy, but I know I can't do it on my own. I need God.