PAQUIAO WELCOME! A WINDFALL FOR PEOPLE'S CHAMP

MANILA, NOVEMBER 25, 2003  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - A Presidential Medal of Merit, a condominium unit, a check worth P1 million and, if plans push through, a trip to the forthcoming Vietnam SEA Games.

All these Manny Pacquiao gladly received after the reigning International Boxing Federation (IBF) super-bantamweight champion paid a courtesy call on President Arroyo in Malacañang yesterday afternoon.

The boxer from Gen. Santos City was given a warm welcome as he entered the Ceremonial Hall. Clad in barong tagalog, Pacquiao marched in with the President who wore a formal powder blue dress.

Still fresh from his sensational 11th round TKO win over Mexican champion Marco Antonio Barrera last week, Pacquiao delivered a short speech then gifted the President with a commemorative shirt and a videotape of his recent bout in San Antonio, Texas.

Pacquiao’s IBF belt was also presented to the President.

"Ako’y kumakampanya (I’m campaigning)," Pacquiao said in his speech, eliciting laughter from government and sports officials, Palace employees and mediamen who were present.

The President smiled as she stood behind Pacquiao.

"Pero ang kampanya ko ay hindi tungkol sa pulitika, kung hindi sa pagmamahalan natin sa isa’t-isa, pagkakaunawaan at pagkakaisa sa ating bansa (But it’s not for politics. It’s for love, understanding and unity in our entire country)," added the 24-year-old boxer, now being called as the people’s featherweight champion.

Pacquiao then thanked the President for the condominium unit at the Las Residencias de Manila in Pandacan, worth P650,000, that was presented to him earlier in the day by Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.

"It’s a gift from the government and the private sector as well, the condominium being a joint project," said Atienza.

"Manny Pacquiao is already an adopted son of Manila. Now, we want him to be a resident of Manila," added the Manila mayor.

The check worth P1 million, Pacquiao said, will later be used to help his fellow athletes through a foundation which the former bakery worker plans to put up.

As it is, Pacquiao is a multi-millionaire (he received close to P20 million for his recent bout) and stands to gain a lot more considering his growing popularity in the world arena.

There were even reports of HBO (Home Box Office) offering the Filipino champion a six-fight contract worth more than a billion pesos.

"Pag-uusapan pa namin ng manager ko. Ang importante ay sila na ang lumalapit sa atin. Pati ang mga kalaban (We’re still discussing it. What’s important is that the offers are coming in)," said Pacquiao.

For the meantime, Pacquiao is so busy attending victory parties, granting interviews or entertaining endorsement deals. He plans to stay longer with his family during the coming Christmas holidays.

Before leaving the Ceremonial Hall, Pacquiao also talked about his intention to grace the forthcoming SEA Games in Vietnam where 449 Filipino athletes will vie for the gold.

"Mas maganda iyon kung isasama ako nila First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. Gusto ko iyon para makapanood ako ng SEA Games at makapag-cheer din. Sasama ako sa kanila (I’d be glad to go to Vietnam, watch the games and cheer our countrymen on)," he said.

Chairman Eric Buhain of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) immediately welcomed the idea of having the boxing champion in the sidelines in Vietnam.

"That would be nice and we’ll see what we can do. I think we can work it out," said Buhain.

Earlier, Pacquiao got a rousing welcome befitting his stature as the world’s newest boxing sensation as he was applauded and cheered during a colorful parade in the busy streets of Manila and Makati.

Thousands of well-wishers woke up early to see the champ in person in a three-hour motorcade which started at the Manila City Hall and ended at the Manila Hotel.

"Para akong nag-boxing ng 24 rounds, nakakapagod," said Pacquiao.

"Pero nawala rin ang pagod ko dahil napakainit talaga ng pagtanggap sa akin ng mga tao na talagang nagpapasaya sa akin dahil kahit papaano, natanggal ko ang kanilang mga problema kahit panandalian lamang," he added.

Wearing a No Fear white polo and black slacks, Pacquiao was accompanied by wife Jinky, Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and his son and Manila Sports Council (Masco) chairman Ali, trainer Lito Mondejar and a number of mediamen aboard a maroon Chevrolet pick-up.

They rode on a lead vehicle in a convoy together with a huge truck where a band played martial music while Pacquiao was busy waving and acknowledging the cheers from the crowd.

The motorcade snaked through the streets of Moriones and Divisoria, Tondo as hordes of fans, who included students, teachers, vendors, shoppers and residents alike, showed posters, banners and placards which read like "Ikaw ang Idol namin" or "Champion ka sa Puso namin."

Pacquiao was also greeted with chants of "Idol, Idol, Idol!" which he found so amusing and flattering that he took time out to shake hands with some of the fans.

"Wala talaga siyang pagod, natuwa kasi siya sa mga tao, grabe ang pagtanggap at paghanga ang binigay sa kanya," said Ali Atienza.

After the flag ceremony led by the Manila Mayor at the City Hall at 7 a.m. the motorcade flagged off at 8 a.m. and passed through Jones Bridge, Escolta, Dasmariñas, Quintin Paredes, Reina Regente, Recto, Delpan, Zaragosa, R-10 before taking stops in Moriones and Juan Luna because of heavy traffic. — With report from Joey Villar


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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