[PHOTO AT LEFT - Photo is loading... Boxing great Manny Pacquiao acknowledges someone from the audience while posing with his family, from left, Princess, Jimuel and Michael, upon arrival with his wife Jinkee, to another hero's welcome early this morning. AP]

MANILA, MARCH 22, 2010 (STAR) By Abac Cordero  - Manny Pacquiao returns home to a grateful nation today, and by the time he steps out of the plane, the world’s greatest boxer will be ready to face questions regarding his next big fight – in the political ring.

Pacquiao, his wife Jinkee, and some friends were scheduled to fly out of Los Angeles Saturday evening for the long journey back home, exactly a week after his 12-round pounding of Joshua Clottey.

Pacquiao never ran into trouble against the Ghanaian challenger who hardly put up a fight which he vowed to give. The Pinoy fighter posted a unanimous decision and kept his WBO welterweight crown.

This early, there are talks as to who Pacquiao should face next in the ring – whether it’s Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the biggest fight in history, or someone else who can keep him company on top of the ring.

Edwin Valero, the knockout specialist from Venezuela, Antonio Margarito, an ex-champion who may be too big for Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez, who still thinks he can beat the Filipino, are on the list.

But Pacquiao, according to his promoter, Bob Arum, may not get to wear his Cleto Reyes boxing gloves until November. Not unless the 31-year-old champion insists he wants to fight sooner, he’ll be out for at least seven months.

For the meantime, it’s the big battle outside the ring that should take all of Pacquiao’s time the moment he arrives at the PAL Centennial airport at around 5 a.m. today, under heavy security and under an even heavier media presence.

The Pacquiao kids, who he hasn’t seen for more than two months now, will be among the welcomers, as well as politicians who will die just to be seen and photographed around Pacquiao.

As usual, Pacquiao will hold a mini-press conference within the arrival area, and while questions about the Clottey fight would break the ice, there will be more to deal with regarding his bid in the May 10 national elections.

Pacquiao is seeking a congressional seat in his province of Saranggani, but unlike his recent fights overseas, with this one he’s up against a heavyweight, an opponent who belongs to a well-entrenched political clan in the province.

Pacquiao also ran, and lost in the 2007 elections, losing a big battle against a younger but more experienced female rival. He said he learned his lessons well from that loss, and is confident of doing better in the coming polls.

“Mas maganda na ang chance ko ngayon (I’ve got better chances this time),” he said in Los Angeles a few days ago.

From the airport, Pacquiao and his convoy won’t take 15 minutes to get to the New World Hotel in Makati for a brief rest, and more interviews. Then he gets to meet his close friend and Manila mayoral candidate Lito Atienza in San Andres.

From there, he attends the traditional Thanksgiving Mass at Quiapo Church, and later proceeds to Malacañang for a quick audience with President Arroyo. Then he’s off to the motorcade that will take him in and around the metropolis.

It will cover the busy streets of Legarda, Bustillos, Sampaloc Market, S.H. Loyola, Trabaho Market, Plaza Noli, Matimyas, Blumentritt, Dapitan, Lacson, Yuseco, Raxabago, Juan Luna, Pritil, Moriones, R 10, Zaragoza, Delpan, Anda Circle, Cabildo, Victoria, Gen. Luna, Maria Orosa, T.M. Kalaw, Taft Avenue, Pedro Gil, Paco Market and Sta. Ana Market.

Pacquiao’s schedule the rest of the day is written in chalk, and could change by the minute. But it will be a very long one because the following day, he is scheduled to fly home to Saranggani.

On to the campaign trail.

Pacquiao back home, hears Mass at Quiapo Church By Dino Maragay and Dennis Carcamo (philstar.com) Updated March 22, 2010 09:31 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao has returned to the Philippines today to a hero’s welcome after another successful bout abroad.

The fiery southpaw arrived in the country on board Philippine Airlines flight 103 from Los Angeles at around 5:45 a.m., accompanied by his wife Jinkee along with his huge entourage.

As of this posting, Pacquiao is hearing Mass at the Quiapo Church — a regular activity for the boxer after each overseas fight.

Pacquiao, along former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, arrived at the church around 9 a.m. He was mobbed by avid fans he walked to the front row seats.

Pacquiao is fresh from retaining his WBO welterweight title against Ghana’s Joshua Clottey last Mar. 14 at the famed Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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