MANILA, MAY 8, 2009
(STAR) By Katherine Adraneda and Abac Cordeo - There’s no stopping “people’s champ” Manny Pacquiao from returning to the country today – not bad weather or pleas from officials worried about his being a potential carrier of the deadly A(H1N1) influenza virus.

The boxing legend also shrugged off the prospect of being quarantined if he shows symptoms of the disease, which has claimed lives in Mexico and the United States.

Pacquiao’s “adopted father,” Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, said the boxing icon and his entourage boarded a plane bound for Manila at 10 p.m. Wednesday (yesterday morning in Manila). Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 from Los Angeles is expected to arrive at 5:30 a.m. today at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2.

“No one can stop Manny from returning home because that is his right,” Atienza said.

Atienza said Pacquiao might even push through with his plan to hear Mass at Quiapo church, possibly after breakfast and a brief rest at a hotel in Makati City.

Atienza stressed Pacquiao and his entourage are willing to go through the screening procedure at the airport – including thermal scanning – to determine if he or any of his companions has fever, which is one of the symptoms of the A(H1N1) flu.

He added Pacquiao fans would have to wait for the weather to clear up before they get a chance to see and greet the world’s pound-for-pound king. Typhoon “Emong” is expected to bring heavy rains in Metro Manila today and over the weekend.

Motorcades organized by Atienza when he was still Manila mayor highlighted Pacquiao’s victory homecoming in the past.

In interviews with local television and radio networks, Pacquiao said he and others in his entourage who were in Los Angeles, do not have any flu symptoms that could justify their quarantine.

“If you are healthy, why should you be quarantined?” he told dzBB radio.

“He wanted to come home and see his kids. He’s been here in the US for more than two months now. Like any father, he wants to see his children now and no one can stop him,” said a Pacquiao insider.

Not even a call from Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Bayani Fernando could make Pacquiao change his mind. Fernando reportedly asked Pacquiao to delay his return trip by five days.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III urged Pacquiao on Wednesday to postpone his homecoming because the virus was found to have spread to Los Angeles.

Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde urged Pacquiao to observe “social distancing.”

The World Health Organization advised Pacquiao and his group to observe self-quarantine for the same length of time after their return, and airport welcomers should maintain a one-meter distance from the boxing champ and his party, avoiding handshakes and hugs.

The Philippines has no confirmed case of the A(H1N1) flu, as three of five patients under observation have been cleared, Duque said.

A “national day of celebration” for Pacquiao’s latest triumph has been postponed for next week and a meeting between President Arroyo and Pacquiao originally set today has been moved to Monday, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

Deputy Presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said Pacquiao and his group should heed WHO’s advice.

“We have no more issues on Pacquiao’s return. We’re no longer stopping him. But what’s important is he and the rest self-quarantine for five days in his house or hotel,” Golez said.

“It’s going to be a nightmare for the country if someone from his team exhibits signs and symptoms of the A(H1N1) virus,” he said. “We’re lucky up to now we don’t have the virus,” he added.

Ready for quarantine

Politicians who arrived from the US after watching the Pacquiao-Hatton fight said they are ready for self-quarantine.

“Let the secretary of health issue and implement the protective measures he wants without so much media fanfare. I’m sure all the congressmen will oblige him without any resistance,” Speaker Prospero Nograles, who arrived yesterday, said.

“Nobody, including myself, is above the law. So everybody must go through the precautionary procedures with respect to the protection of the country’s health. All congressmen must do the same thing,” he said. Nograles’ self-quarantine started yesterday and will last until Monday.

“We will even go a bit further. We will ask our medical department doctors and staff to discreetly and quietly conduct random check-up in the House and go to offices of congressmen who have traveled abroad over the last month just to make sure,” he said.

“So please do not worry about us. Worry about those who do not have the facilities available to senators and congressmen,” he said.

Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Bong Revilla separately declared their intention to undergo quarantine.

“I am willing to undergo (quarantine) as long as everybody who came from LA is also placed under quarantine, not only a few,” Zubiri said.

Revilla told dzMM radio that like Nograles, he would heed Duque’s advice for a five-day self-quarantine.

“That’s better for us. It’s also difficult to go to work in the Senate and notice your colleagues avoiding you or staying away from you,” he said.

Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez said Duque was overacting for advising Pacquiao to defer his return.

“I urge Pacquiao to come home and dare Duque to stop him,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the issue has nothing to do with victory parades being missed but of the constitutionally guaranteed right of every Filipino to travel,” Sen. Loren Legarda said.

Comelec nod

Despite the controversy stirred by his homecoming, Pacquiao still has a reason to rejoice.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) approved yesterday Pacquiao’s petition to have his political party People’s Champ Movement (PCM) accredited by the poll body.

In a four-page resolution, the Comelec’s Second Division said it recognized PCM as a “local political party for General Santos City and Sarangani province.”

“We found nothing that would disqualify from registering the petitioner as local political party and, hence, no reason to deny the registration of the petitioner,” the resolution read.

Meanwhile, former President Joseph Estrada urged the boxing champ to stay away from politics.

“He (Pacquiao) would only be used by the politicians surrounding him. I would rather see him, idolize him, as a boxing hero of the Filipinos. Politics is not his turf,” Estrada told The STAR over the phone.

“He can do a lot to help his provincemates in General Santos even if he is not in politics,” Estrada said. - With Rudy Santos, Paolo Romero, Christina Mendez, Sheila Crisostomo, Jess Diaz, Jose Rodel Clapano, AP

Victorious Pacquiao arrives today By Vernadette Joven Updated May 08, 2009 09:12 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Pound-for-pound king Manny Paquiao arrived this morning at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, radio reports said. The triumphant boxer pushed through with his homecoming despite calls from Philippine health officials to stay in the US and go on a self-quarantine amid the swine flu scare.

"Sabi ko kung wala kaming nararamdaman uuwi kami at sa awa ng Diyos wala naman kami naramadaman [I said if we don’t feel sick, we will go home and thank God, we all feel well today]," Pacquiao said.

Paquiao believes that he is safer in the country than staying in Los Angeles.

The World Health Organization and the Department of Health earlier urged Paquiao and his entourage to go on self-imposed quarantine for five days in Los Angeles before coming home.

“Mas delikado sa akin kung magtatagal ako dun dahil maraming bumibisita sa akin sa hotel [It will be more risky if I remain in Los Angeles because I get many visitors in the hotel],” said Paquiao.

Upon arriving 6:13 a.m. today, Pacquiao and his entourage underwent thermal scanning. He then graced a mini press conference at the arrival area, where he thanked all Filipinos for their unending support.

Paquiao also reiterated that he has no ill-feelings in the postponement of his homecoming celebration in Manila, and that he is grateful for the accolades given to him by the government.

"Masaya ako sa karangalan na ibinibigay nila sa akin lalong lalo na sa mahal na pangulo [I’m happy for the accolades, especially those from our beloved President]," said Paquiao.

Paquiao, who is staying at the Renaissance Hotel in Makati City, will head to the Quiapo Church in Manila at 10 a.m. for a thanksgiving Mass. He will then grace an event at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City in the afternoon.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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