Manny Messiah

US soldier convicted of rape, my blog article for Global Voices.

To declare Manny Pacquiao as the most popular icon in the country today may be an understatement. Every time Manny defends his crown in the ring, the streets of Manila are deserted, internet traffic is down and crime rate is almost zero since people from all walks of life are watching the fight inside their homes.

Manny has become the spokesperson of the downtrodden who beat all odds and became a world boxing champion. He is the modern hero of the masses inspiring young people from the provinces who also dream of acquiring fabulous riches and fame. Manny’s almost mythical journey from General Santos City to Manila and finally to Las Vegas is a tale recounted again and again by the media and ordinary folks.

However, Manny’s popularity is exploited by traditional politicians who wish to share the limelight with the local hero. Manny has also chosen to endorse consumer products enticing the poor to buy things they don’t need in life.

Manny could have been the ‘big brother’ of the poor standing up not just against Mexican boxers but also against corrupt public servants and greedy corporate individuals. Manny could have spoken against the iniquitous social order which relegates majority of the hardworking people in the lowest rungs of society.

There are many self-appointed heroes in society. We do not have a shortage of leaders with bleeding hearts for the poor. We can cite a few of them: Erap, FPJ, GMA – all of them have boasted their affinity with the poor. But they were all pretenders. They never knew or felt how was it to be poor. They never experienced hunger, destituteness or bankruptcy. (Moral bankruptcy, perhaps). They just claimed to be the servants of the poor, and we believed them.

But Manny Pacquiao is different. Here we have a genuine working-class hero. Manny knew the cruelty of abject poverty. Early in his life, Manny endured discrimination and penury. Manny has to fight (literally) for his humanity. He has to shed blood, sweat and tears to escape the humiliation of being tagged as poor.

Manny’s stature has a subversive potential. He could effectively rally the masses to march and destroy the oppressive social order. He could rouse the poor to remove the evils of society. He could lead the revolution against poverty.

But Manny refuses to undertake this coveted responsibility. Instead, he relinquishes his duty by allowing the politicians to usurp his popularity among the poor. He continues to be grateful to his ‘patrons’ yet he does not owe anything to these ‘vultures’. The poor looks up to Manny as their Redeemer yet he seems to be unaware of his true power.

Manny needs to be reminded of the tragic story of another working-class hero in Philippine history: Nora Aunor.

Before Manny Pacquiao, there was Nora Aunor. The younger generation may never understand why Nora was called ‘superstar’ or why she was more popular than the very respectful, beautiful and charming Ms. Vilma Santos-Recto. But in her heyday, Nora was the quintessential brown-skinned Filipina thespian.

Like Manny, Nora was a rural girl who tried her luck in the Metro and succeeded. She captivated the country with her singing prowess, country charm/beauty and acting skills. Nora gained fame, wealth and respect. Nora was the hero of the masses.

Patrick Flores (The Dissemination of Nora Aunor) recounts a story told by the late Lino Brocka about Nora: “After the premiere of a film, a big crowd waited for her outside the lobby. People were unruly. Her car was being bumped by the crowd. All she did was put a finger on her lips and raise her right hand, and it was like the parting of the Red Sea. You could hear a pin drop.”

Neferti Tadiar (The Noranian Imaginary) recalls one of the stories about Nora: “One afternoon in a wealthy subdivision in Manila; chaos and crisis suddenly erupt in the peaceful homes of the rich – children are crying, housewives are helplessly stranded, pots are boiling over. It turns out that all the maids working in these households have abandoned their wards, female employers, and domestic duties to watch a ‘shooting’ of a Nora Aunor movie in the neighbourhood.”

Tadiar believed “Nora’s power did not lie in her personification of the babaeng martir as powerless victim of suprahuman forces, but rather it lay in her acting of, and as, the blessed atsay who is able to capture and enact the power and grace of those forces.”

But Nora (like Manny) surrendered her power over the masses by supporting the ruling class. Tadiar wrote further: “The subversive potential of Nora’s popularity (the heretical power of Inang Bayan), of her defining common countenance, might be seen to have been realized in the role of the insurgent woman Redeemer which was, in the wake of Nora’s relinquishment of her mandate, taken up by Corazon Aquino during the February Revolt of 1986…In aligning herself with the authoritarian patriarchal order of the Marcos regime, Nora betrayed and thereby ‘allowed’ Aquino (and the Church, the Military and the Class for which she stood) to usurp and reform, effectively turning it from a revolutionary people’s power to a conservative and stabilizing majestic Marian rule.”

Manny, learn from Nora’s political mistakes. Someday, when you are no longer a prize fighter, your friends in politics will abandon you. The masa will not forget how you gave up your claim as the nation’s Redeemer.

Manny, stop flaunting your wealth. Instead, lead the revolution. Man the frontlines. Man the barricades. Your fans await you.

Related entries:

Sports idols
Sports for all.


One Comment

  1. Posted December 23, 2006 at 10:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    Manny is a great boxer. No doubts there. I do not also question him being labeled as a ‘modern-day hero.’
    But equating him to the greatness of Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio and even putting him in our currency is going too far and is completely ridiculous.

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