METRO MANILA, January 28, 2006 (MALAYA) DESPITE cloudy skies and rainshowers, Metro Manilans gave boxing icon Manny Pacquiao a hero’s welcome yesterday in a four-hour motorcade in Manila and Quezon City after he planed in from Los Angeles, California.

Pacquiao and wife Jinky arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport aboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 around 5 a.m.

From the airport, Pacquiao’s party proceeded to the Hyatt hotel on Roxas boulevard for a few hours’ rest before making a courtesy call on Manila City Hall and Malacañang.

Around 9 a.m., Pacquiao arrived at the city hall, where he held a mini-press conference.

He defended politicians who watched him TKO Mexican Erik Morales in the 10th round of their rematch on January 22 in Las Vegas.

He said the people should not give political color to the support given him by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson who were at the ringside of the Thomas and Mack Center.

"Naniniwala po ako na ang pagpunta nila sa Las Vegas ay di para sa pulitika kundi pagsuporta sa kanilang kababayan," he said.

Asked to comment to reports that he is being eyed by Malacañang as an endorser for charter change, Pacquiao said, "Sports na lang ang pag-usapan natin."

"Kahit ano, basta para sa bayan, kung saan ako makakatulong, handa ako. Proud akong maging Filipino. Excited akong makamayan ang mga tao," he added.

After the press conference, Pacquiao and his entourage proceeded to Malacañang for a courtesy call-cum-breakfast with President Arroyo.

Jimrex Jaca, another boxer who successfully knocked out in the first round his Mexican opponent in an undercard bout before the Pacquiao-Morales fight, was given the brush off by some staff, who did not recognize him, at the Manila City Hall.

Jaca quietly left, although he was stopped by some people in the crowd who recognized him and asked for his autograph.

"Naiintindihan ko naman. Hindi naman masama ang loob ko. Kusa na akong umalis dahil alam kong para kay Manny ito," he said.

On learning that Jaca was scheduled to join the motorcade, employees from the mayor’s office ran after his party and invited them in. At that time, Pacquiao already left for Malacañang.

A staffer of Mayor Lito Atienza said Jaca had been assigned another vehicle for the motorcade, but later on, he was asked to join Pacquiao, Atienza, and Manila Rep. Miles Roces in the main float adorned with giant red boxing gloves.

In Malacañang, Pacquiao called for unity and cooperation among Filipinos.

He was greeted with songs "Pinoy Ako" by Orange and Lemon and his single "Para sa Iyo (Laban na Ito)."

"Sa inyong lahat siyempre, maraming, maraming salamat. Sana lagi kayong magkakaisa, may laban o wala, he said.

He thanked those who prayed for him and watched him on TV.

"Today is Pacquiao Day," Arroyo declared.

Pacquiao was accompanied by his wife Jinky, parents Rosalio and Dionisia, the Pacquiao team – Wilson Tieng, William Tieng, Buboy Fernandez, Wakee Salud, Jayke Joson and Jaca – and Atienza.

Also on hand to receive Pacquiao were Vice President Noli de Castro, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and Appointments Secretary Conrado Limcaoco.

Pacquiao was presented by the Malacañang chefs, led by executive chef Babes Austria, with a pastry they prepared for the boxing champion.

Bunye described it as a boxing glove-shaped empanada.

He was served pate brisee, described by the Palace as "stuffed chicken and wild mushroom in white wine reduction topped with poppy seed."

It was placed in the middle of a plate lined with filo pastry and sprinkled with black sesame seeds and the letters R-O-U-N-D and the number 10.

Bunye said during Arroyo and Pacquiao’s meeting, they talked about the boxer’s desire to help his fellow boxers, particularly former champions who are now out of luck like Rolando Navarete.

Pacquiao committed to extend financial assistance while the President vowed to help provide livelihood and skills training for them.

Joining Pacquiao in the motorcade were 2005 Miss World Precious Lara Quigaman and Cristina Bugayon, a student who returned more than P300,000 in cash and checks she saw fall from a tricycle.

Clad in gray long sleeves with black stripes and denims, Pacquiao waved cheerfully at the throng of fans who waited as early as 6 a.m.

Eight year-old Louie Estacio of Tayuman, Manila, said he along with his father Ruben, had been waiting for Manny since 6:30 a.m. They brought food and extra clothes.

The motorcade ended at past 5 p.m. with a program, hosted by Atienza, at the Rajah Sulaiman park.

Pacquiao sang his single "Para sa Iyo" and Arroyo joined Pacquiao in the singing.

The program, "A Tribute to the Pinoy Champion," was ongoing at presstime.

Metro Manila police chief Vidal Querol said at least 4,000 policemen were deployed to secure the boxing icon during the parade.

Atienza said they wanted to hold a motorcade all over Metro Manila for Pacquiao fans but this was not possible.

"Wala tayong sapat na panahon at pagod na ang ating kampiyon," he said.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said Malacañang had turned Pacquiao’s arrival into one big photo opportunity for Arroyo, while depriving thousands of Makati residents, executives, and employees of their chance to honor Pacquiao with a ticker tape parade along Ayala avenue.

Ayala has been the traditional venue for ticket tape parades.

Quigaman and the Filipino SEA Games athletes were showered with confetti and crowds during the ticker tape parade in their honor in the heart of Makati’s financial center last year.

When Pacquiao won over Marco Antonio Barrera in November 2003, he was also honored with a ticker tape parade along Ayala avenue.

Binay said the city government had been receiving inquiries as early as Tuesday from Makati’s leading corporations, asking how they could participate in welcoming Pacquiao.

"Makati’s private sector, the biggest names in Philippine business, was ready at a moment’s notice to participate in this momentous event," he said.

"Friday should have belonged to Manny Pacquiao, and no one else. But Malacañang turned his homecoming into another big photo op for President Arroyo. What we saw was another example of shameless credit-grabbing," he said.

Binay said it was apparent that politics had a hand in deciding Pacquiao’s itinerary.

"Manny Pacquiao deserves a welcome fit for a world-class and honorable Filipino, and it would not be complete without a parade along Ayala avenue. He was, however, hijacked by Malacanang," he said.

"Pacquiao won cleanly and convincingly. And the irony is that he met Mrs. Arroyo who is accused of cheating in the last presidential elections," he said. – Evangeline de Vera, Francis Cueto and Jocelyn Montemayor

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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