[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo shows off her ‘presidential fists’ while ‘interviewing’ boxing idol Manny Pacquiao during a welcome ceremony at Malacañang yesterday. Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, OCTOBER 12, 2007 (STAR) By Katherine Adraneda - After reasserting his supremacy in the boxing ring, people’s champ Manny Pacquiao has set his sights on environmental protection.

Pacquiao made the decision to lead efforts in protecting the environment, adopting the Philippine Eagle as his trademark.

“My symbol now is the eagle… I have chosen that for my trademark because the eagle is endangered and we need to propagate it. I want us to take care of the Philippine Eagle,” Pacquiao said in Filipino before a crowd of cheering fans and employees at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City.

Pacquiao returned home to a hero’s welcome early yesterday morning from the US after beating Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in a grudge match last Sunday (Saturday night in Las Vegas).

Pacquiao, who holds the WBC international super featherweight belt, was welcomed by throngs of fans at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) before being whisked off to celebrations at the DENR with his benefactor, Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza.

The country’s Pambansang Kamao (national fist) later proceeded to Malacañang for a meeting with President Arroyo.

During yesterday’s rousing welcome party held at the office of Atienza, Pacquiao announced he will be dropping his “Pambansang Kamao” trademark for the image of the Philippine Eagle, also known as Haribon or “Haring Ibon,” considered one of the most powerful birds in the world.

“We should give emphasis to efforts to save the Philippine Eagle from extinction before it’s too late,” he said.

Pacquiao added he will exert all efforts to save the environment.

Atienza announced Pacquiao has initially donated P100,000 to help efforts to save the Philippine Eagle, among the rarest and largest birds of prey in the world.

Atienza subsequently put a campaign pin of the Philippine Raptors Conservation Project of the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) on Pacquiao’s chest and gave him a handful of educational posters.

“Only in the Philippines do we have the endangered eagle. Only in the Philippines do we also have a Manny Pacquiao,” Atienza said.

Pacquiao arrived at the DENR accompanied by Atienza from the New World Renaissance Hotel in Makati City, where he checked in after arriving from NAIA.

He was forced to alight from his gray Porsche Cayenne to walk through throngs of cheering fans who had been waiting for him at the DENR gates.

The Quezon City Marching Band played as Pacquiao arrived at the DENR, while the popular boxing song “Eye of the Tiger” and his hit song “Para Sa’yo” echoed as he walked through the crowd.

Former Ilocos Sur governor Luis “Chavit” Singson accompanied Pacquiao to the press conference at the DENR.

“Thank you for the support you have given me and thank God for the strength He had given me,” Pacquiao said in Filipino.

Atienza said the victory of Pacquiao symbolizes the triumph of Filipinos. He introduced Pacquiao as the “world champion and ally of the environment.”

Pacquiao renewed his pitch for unity in the wake of the seemingly unending turmoil in the country’s political scene.

Pacquiao said his achievements would serve as inspiration for the youth, but he discouraged them from making a career out of boxing. He stressed the importance of finishing school to be able to have a more secure career.

Pacquiao bared plans to pursue his studies full time. He also said he would pursue his commitments in show business.

No snub

Pacquiao also bared his side of the story on why he refused to appear at the welcome parade prepared for him by the City of Manila.

He denied snubbing the victory motorcade, which started during Atienza’s stint as mayor of the city and became a tradition after every successful boxing match abroad.

Pacquiao claimed there was an apparent failure in the coordination between the City Government of Manila and his camp.

“Nobody informed me ahead of the planned motorcade. It was already too late for me since I only learned of the preparations upon my arrival at NAIA,” he said.

“I was waiting for them call me. I could not present myself to them. I was surprised after learning that I allegedly deliberately snubbed their invitation,” he said.

Pacquiao stressed no politics was involved in his decision to decline the offer.

Following the press conference at the DENR, Pacquiao proceeded to Malacañang to meet with President Arroyo, who welcomed Pacquiao amid a shower of confetti at the Kalayaan Hall of the presidential palace.

Accompanied by his wife Jinky, Pacquiao was greeted by an elated Mrs. Arroyo who decided to host the program, talk show style.

She even asked Pacquiao about his pre- and post-fight routines, including making the sign of the cross and kneeling in prayer ringside.

“I do that in every match to avoid disaster, to avoid being knocked out or beaten up by my opponent; so that I would be victorious or just to ask for strength so that I would win the fight,” Pacquiao told the President.

Mrs. Arroyo noted Pacquiao’s win over his Mexican opponent last Sunday made an impact in the peace and order in the country.

She cited news reports that even the military and the rebels dropped their guns momentarily to watch the fight.

“What you said about your willingness to fight every day if this was its effect on the people was very beautiful. Thank you for that,” Mrs. Arroyo told Pacquiao.

Master Sgt. Pacman

Pacquiao, meanwhile, has been promoted to Master Sergeant, one rank higher in the Army’s reserve force following his unanimous victory over Barrera in Las Vegas last Sunday.

Army spokesman Lt. Ernesto Torres said Pacquiao, a reserve Technical Sergeant, was promoted effective last Sunday “for giving honor, not only to the Army and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), but the entire country.”

AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who declared an “informal ceasefire” to allow troops to watch the boxing match last Sunday, said Pacquiao deserves the promotion.

Esperon said they found in Pacquiao the inspiration to fight and excel in sports, that Filipinos should have the determination to achieve victory in most of life’s struggles.

Life in various major military camps in Metro Manila momentarily ground to a halt as “Pacman” pounded Barrera in their 12 round-bout.

Esperon declared the “informal ceasefire” before the fight and hostilities against the rebels resumed after Pacquiao won the rematch.

At the Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City, Army chief Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano led soldiers in watching the fight on the big screen especially set up for the rematch.

The Navy headquarters at Fort Abad along Roxas Boulevard in Manila also had the same atmosphere, with sailors gathering together to cheer for Pacquiao.

Esperon said Pacquiao sometimes wears Navy shirts, making him project an image that his heart is with the soldiers.

“Pacquiao exemplifies the image of a well-rounded Filipino soldier,” Esperon said.

Sen. Francis Escudero, for his part, congratulated Pacquiao for his role in uniting the country, even for a day.

“We could not deny that Pacquiao was able to unite all opposing sectors of our society, opposition or administration, the left and the right, all of them wanted him to win while watching him fight for the country,” he said.

Escudero though gave unsolicited advice to Pacquiao to “stay out of politics.” -With Marvin Sy, James Mananghaya, Christina Mendez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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