MANILA, MARCH 15, 2008
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - For at least seven hours, soldiers will take a break from fighting communist insurgents tomorrow to join the rest of Filipinos worldwide in rooting for Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao in his World Boxing Council (WBC) super featherweight title match against against Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

And just like in his previous fights, the Philippine National Police (PNP) again expects zero-crime rate in the country when the People’s Champ slugs it out with the “Dinamita” from Mexico.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Gen. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. declared a unilateral suspension of military offensive (SOMO) against the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) all over the country tomorrow, from 8 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon.

“We will have SOMO starting 0800 up to the termination of the boxing match of Pacquiao,” Esperon announced to his troop commanders yesterday.

“We will have SOMO with the NPA except when you have to act against enemy atrocities,” Esperon hastily added.

In an exclusive interview with The STAR, Esperon disclosed yesterday his decision to implement the unilateral SOMO whether the CPP-NPA would reciprocate or not.

“Huwag na silang manggulo. Everybody wants to witness another win of Pacquiao,” Esperon pointed out.

The AFP top brass, however, is confident that the communist rebels would honor this SOMO, as they did the first time when Pacquiao out-pointed Mexico’s Juan Antonio Barrera in their WBC International super featherweight match on Oct.6 last year also in Las Vegas.

He said the SOMO is only with the CPP-NPA because the government has an existing ceasefire agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Earlier, Esperon challenged the CPP-NPA to also enter into a ceasefire agreement with the government if they want to resume stalled peace talks. The CPP-NPA leadership though spurned Esperon.

To enable military officers and men to watch “for free” the live telecast of the boxing match, Esperon ordered a wide screen installed at the gymnasium of the AFP Headquarters in Camp Aquinaldo, Quezon City.

Esperon, however, said he would not be able to join his troops to watch Pacquiao’s match because he would join Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro in the academic awarding of this year’s Philippine Military Academy (PMA) graduates at Fort Del Pilar in Baguio City tomorrow.

The PMA awarding and turnover of command rites are scheduled at 9 in the morning, which Esperon said could not be moved anymore to give way to the Pacquio-Marquez boxing match. Esperon said he would just watch the replay of the match on TV later in the day.

PNP anticipates zero crime

PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome said authorities anticipate most Filipinos to be glued to their television sets again during Pacquiao’s epic battle with Marquez.

“Just like in the past fights of Manny, we expect again a tremendous decrease in the crime rate this Sunday, or even to the extent of anticipating a zero-crime rate during the fight,” Bartolome said. “This goes to show that we Filipinos are really supportive of a countryman who will again show the true form of a Filipino boxer.”

Despite the anticipated zero-crime, Bartolome assured the PNP will not let its guard down, especially against criminals who might also take advantage of the situation.

“Even during the boxing bouts of Pacquiao, the PNP does not relax. It doesn’t mean that the PNP will not do its job anymore,” Bartolome

Palace expects political ceasefire

Malacañang, for its part, says it expects a ceasefire in the political front this Sunday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, an avid boxing fan and a former pugilist himself, said he is hopeful that Pacquiao would once again work his magic and unite the country even for just one day.

Ermita said he expects a ceasefire from the political warfare being waged by the critics of the administration at least on Sunday.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye noted that in the previous fights of Pacquiao, there was little or no traffic and the crime rate was close to zero.

Movie houses showing the Pacquiao-Marquez tussle, as well as bars and restaurants offering live screenings, are expected to be jampacked with fans on Sunday morning.

Bunye said Malacañang and the entire country is behind Pacquiao and expects him to give his best in the fight.

“We are praying for our fellow Filipino. We believe that he is very prepared for his fight this Sunday. Let’s hope for the best. Whatever the results, we know that certainly Manny Pacquiao prepared very hard for this and I’m sure that he will fight in a way that will make all Filipinos very proud of him,” Bunye said.

Ermita said he will be watching the bout and even gave a prediction on the outcome.

“Finish the fight in eight rounds and make every Filipino happy,” Ermita said.

Politicians after Arum’s ticket

Meanwhile, Bob Arum, the venerated boxing promoter guiding Pacquiao’s career, can allow just five dignitaries into the ring at the Mandalay Bay on Sunday but he thinks every politician in the country is after his five tickets.

Vice President Noli de Castro, some cabinet secretaries and several congressmen are traveling to Las Vegas this week with hopes of getting one of those passes, which would allow them to pose for a post-fight photograph with an unparalleled national hero.

“These politicians aren’t stupid,” said Arum, whose Top Rank offices have been deluged with phone calls. “Aligning with an admired athlete helps their image. Manny is very valuable to them.”

Pacquiao means many things to many people and focusing on his training can be tougher than any ring battle.

He is just as famous in the expatriate Filipino community in California, where hundreds turned out on short notice in San Francisco and Los Angeles for recent public appearances by their fearless 130-pound (59-kilogram) champion.

“To me, it’s reminiscent of how (Muhammad) Ali was,” Arum said.

“It’s mainly with Filipinos, but it’s the same adulation that I remember when I was promoting Ali. He’s a lovely kid. He’s not braggadocious like Ali, but he’s hardly quiet. He’s just a mass of energy and movement.” – Cecille Suerte Felipe, Marvin Sy, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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