, September 19, 2005 
(STAR) By Jaime Laude - World super featherweight boxing champion Manny Pacquiao delivered a knockout punch of support yesterday to battle-scarred infantrymen fighting insurgents and criminals in the jungles of Mindanao.

Making a surprise visit to Fort Bonifacio, home of the 75,000-strong Philippine Army (PA), Pacquiao made the soldiers realize they are not alone in the nation’s battle to regain its pride at home and abroad.

His presence at the Army camp afforded the battle-weary troops the chance to see and be with the world champion and the pride of the Filipino nation in person.

Assembled for a Friday afternoon flag-retreat ceremony at the Army Grandstand, more than 500 Army officers and servicemen broke into applause when the boxing champion made his appearance.

Army chief of staff Maj. Gen. Alexander Yano led the troops in welcoming Pacquiao, hailing the boxer as a source of pride and inspiration.

Pacquiao, who won a six-round knockout against Mexican opponent Hector Velasquez in their Los Angeles, California bout last week, made a brief speech to the troops in paying tribute to their sacrifice and efforts to secure the nation against its enemies.

"I am deeply honored by the warm welcome you have accorded me. This victory is not mine alone but for the entire Filipino nation," Pacquiao told the cheering soldiers.

Wearing a military jacket, Pacquiao also vowed to dedicate his upcoming fight to the nation and promised that he would do his best.

"I commit to you that I will give my best — my best for the Filipino people. The Filipino people have stood united supporting me and it is my prayer that this display of unity be the beginning of a true and united Filipino nation," Pacquiao said.

One Army officer said PacMan’s visit to the camp turned yesterday’s routine event into a fan day, with the battle-hardened soldiers cheering and screaming like celebrity fans.

"Lahat masaya. Pati mga opisyal gustong magpakuha ng picture kasama si Manny (All of us were happy. Even the officers pushed their way through just to have the opportunity to be photographed with Manny)," one Army officer said.

He also admitted being one of the "screaming fans" who had to pull rank over his men to get a quick photograph with the boxing champion.

But Pacquiao’s visit came amid some criticism. Some said Malacañang was trying to use the popular boxing champion to "soften" growing unrest in the ranks of the military.

"Malacañang is now playing with Pacquiao’s victory, using it to win support from the military," one military critic said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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