The darling of the hour is boxer Manny Pacquiao, whose April 15 defeat of Mexico’s Jorge Solis might just reverse the negative reaction his decision to run for Congress had been getting. Pacquiao now claims that those who had earlier frowned on his entering politics have changed their mind; they’d like nothing better than to see him in the House.

And why not ? Pacquiao has been hailed as a hero, a unifying force among Filipinos, and even as a “shining light” whose “spirit is the spirit of the Filipino.”

The last two phrases came from Mrs.Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom 60 to 70 percent of Filipinos doubt was elected in 2004, and whose distrust rating is lower than that of any president’s since Marcos. But the term hero to describe him has been falling from the mouths of not a few Filipinos, and they’re not all sportswriters, although his supposedly having unified this fractured nation was the fearless view of at least one Manila broadsheet.

That conclusion is apparently based on the supposition that by beating Solis last Sunday, Pacquiao united Filipinos in common adulation of him, in the process setting aside their differences and temporarily bridging their divisions.

To start with we have the politicians, all of whom have had nothing but praise for Pacquiao, and who would give an arm and a leg to be seen—and photographed and videoed– in his company. Even Darlene Antonino Custodio, whose congressional seat Pacquiao’s eying, tried to get into the same float—incidentally paid for by the General Santos City government—with him, although, to her probable vexation, he refused her company.

That’s unity for you. But then there was the Honorable Lito Atienza, who wants his son to succeed him as mayor of Manila. In furtherance of that goal, His Honor prepared an elaborate welcome for Pacquiao, sans Atienza rivals of course, but with his own political retinue grinning like idiots beside the champ, which I suppose did prove the Inquirer right: these Filipinos were united.

About the Muslims and Christians, however, I don’t know; the last time I looked they were still fighting each other, and I didn’t hear any Muslim, much less an Aeta, Igorot or Ivatan, joining the chorus of Pacquiao worshippers.

As for the rich and the poor, who’re divided not only by the former’s having everything and the latter’s having nothing, but also by Westernization, education, culture, language, and most of all money, no one saw them standing on Manila’s grimy sidewalks cheek by jowl, cheering Pacquiao despite the blaze of this Philippine summer. Mostly we saw shirtless men, poor men, women in dusters and slippers, men and women and children burned by days in the sun, not a single fish belly-white face among them, screaming Pacquiao’s name.

Of course there’s also the political activists and the military, the extent of whose Pacquiao-induced unity can’t be fathomed, since, almost at the same time that Pacquiao was returning to General Santos to “a hero’s welcome,” one more activist was being killed, while earlier still another had been wounded and two others abducted.

Meanwhile, we—or at least some of us– know that among the meanings of “hero” is simply anyone much admired, as in the statement “You’re my hero.” But it does also mean someone who’s done something for many people, and who did it at the cost of his fortune and even life, and who believed in, sought, and fought for something beyond him or herself.

That’s what “hero” clearly meant only some 24 years ago, when Ninoy Aquino returned to the Philippines despite the near-certainty of his death or at least imprisonment. That’s what it used to mean as well when civics was a subject in high school and not a Honda.

Pacquiao was of course as certain as Ninoy was when he landed at 4 a.m. in Manila the other day. But what he was certain of was different. Instead of death or imprisonment he was certain of the “hero’s welcome,” the suite at the Manila Hotel, the motorcade across Manila, the pretty words in Malacanang. After all he’s running as an Arroyo regime candidate, and the regime takes care of its own.

But that’s not all. Most of all there were the screaming throngs. Because he also does have the adulation—the raving, mad, limitless, incalculable adoration– of a people who see in him all that they want to be, which is rich, powerful, in command, deferred to even by his social betters, and surrounded by all the things and persons several million dollars can buy.

He is all they’re not but want to be. And what they don’t want to be is poor, powerless, or dead, which makes the activist in the shallow grave who was killed for fighting for justice or human rights lesser than Pacquiao.

Pacquiao is thus exactly what the poor and dispossessed as well as those who’re just getting by—including the clerk who’s saving up to leave the country of his despair, and the millions who live on a dollar a day, who must burrow through garbage to eat, and who sleep in carts and under bridges—are looking for in a hero. We are a little people, small in our satisfactions, and tinier still in our devotion to ourselves.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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