JANUARY 11, 2007
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Boxing legend Erik Morales never thought Manila would be so much like Mexico.

At first, Morales thought he wouldn’t enjoy his trip here. When he was invited to come, Morales conjured visions of Filipinos booing him wherever he went.

But to his surprise, he found Filipinos to be warm, friendly and very much like Mexicans.

The traffic? He’s used to it because it’s just as bad in Mexico. The climate? He’s enjoying the respite from the winter at this time of year in the US.

Morales, wife Andrea and associate Jorge Quezada blew into town quietly on a Northwest Airlines flight Saturday midnight. They are staying at the Diamond Hotel on Roxas Boulevard and are booked to spend this weekend at the world-famous Amanpulo resort in Palawan. The group returns to the US on Tuesday.

What has made the Morales’ visit more pleasant is the company of their Filipino neighbors who are also in town.

Mario and Aida Cagayat live three houses away from the Moraleses at Rancho del Rey in San Diego and they’re close friends. Two years ago, the Cagayats moved into the first-class neighborhood where some houses are valued at over $1 Million.

"They’re wonderful people," said Aida. "We just walk to each other’s home. Erik keeps on teasing that he’d like to exchange houses with us."

Last Sunday, the Cagayats took the Moraleses to visit their good friend, noted neurologist Dr. Regina Macalintal-Canlas, in Alabang. Then, they went around the Alabang Town Center before watching the horse races in Carmona, Cavite.

The next day, the Moraleses went shopping at Rockwell and Glorietta and were treated to dinner by businessman-sportsman Hermie Esguerra and wife Malou in their Wack-Wack home.

The Moraleses were supposed to spend the day at the Legarda resthouse in Punta Fuego in Nasugbu, Batangas, last Tuesday but cancelled out to sleep in after a long night. They went night bowling at the Palms Country Club in Alabang instead.

Without the pressure of a fight coming up, Morales is just an ordinary, fun-loving regular guy who by the way, thinks the world of his wife.

Andrea, 23, is a pre-ed Montessori teacher who studied the system in Mexico and Italy. She hopes to someday open her own school in San Diego. Last year, she gave birth to their first child, a boy Erik Jr.

"I love her so much," said Morales. "She’s the best wife I could ever find."

Morales didn’t expect to be mobbed by Filipino fans.

"I thought Filipinos hated me," he said. "We can’t even go shopping because I am surrounded by people who are asking for my autograph, talking to me and taking my picture. Of course, I am flattered. I love the Filipino people."

Morales, 30, is one of only three fighters who have beaten Manny Pacquiao. The other two were Rustico Torrecampo and Medgeon 3-K Battery. Morales has beaten another Filipino, Reynante Jamili. But in his last two fights, Morales was stopped by Pacquiao.

Asked whom he thought could beat Pacquiao among the superfeatherweights today, Morales shrugged his shoulders. Would Marco Antonio Barrera be a possibility? "No way," replied Morales. "He’s a sissy."

Morales said his wife and he managed to squeeze in some time for a massage at an Alabang spa. But he won’t do it again.

"I’ve had a problem with my right shoulder and I think I should consult a specialist instead of going for a massage," he said.

If he can get away to do some shopping, Morales said he’d like to buy some Filipino souvenirs to take back home.

As for trainer Freddie Roach who engaged him in a word war before the third Pacquiao fight last November, Morales said he’s "a little bit crazy."

"He’ll say something today that’s different tomorrow," said Morales. "I don’t think we’ll ever be friends. But who knows? When I see him, we might just shake hands."

Pacquiao, however, is a friend. "I like him," said Morales who is vacationing for the first time in Asia.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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