COMMENT: Footnote to Popularity

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/7 December) – Nothing is wrong with popularity as it is; but misdirected, it becomes a menace to person, society and the nation. It is with this thought that we write this footnote with reference to the popularity of Manny Pacquiao, the only world boxing champion to win titles in eight weight divisions. That’s pride of the Filipinos. But pride is not arrogance.

Popularity Buildup

Through hard jabs and punches, Pacquiao earned rightfully his popularity. He became the darling of media that immediately built up his popularity with glowing attributes – glowing yet reflecting shadows of half-truth, paradox and irony with intriguing questions lurking behind. [Note: Refer to “COMMENT: Evading Punches, Evading Taxes, MindaNews, December 4”, for the citations following in light italics — our comments in bold roman.]

Pacquiao was listed by Forbes magazine last year as the 14th highest-paid athlete globally with an estimated $34 million in earnings. That’s P1.72 billion. So, what? How much did he share his country in terms of taxes in 2012 estimated at about P553.6 million before deductions?

Pacquiao is the country’s biggest taxpayer for the years 2008 to 2012 – perhaps, in the country’s history ever — based on the data in BIR’s annual list of “Top 500 Individual Taxpayers” for those years. He paid a total of P170 million in those five years. Impressive! In 2008 he paid P125 million; in 2009, P7.4 million; for the next three years, P36.6 million – averaging P12.2 million a year. He refused to explain the big disparities. Should it be wondered why, virtually, “the BIR has accused him as tax cheat”?

He is the world icon of boxing, the most well known living Filipino in the world today. So, what? What has that contributed to humanity?

As such, he was so much admired that a Time magazine article that included him in its list of the 100 most influential people of the world waxed poetic: “Pacquiao has a myth of origin equal to that of any Greek or Roman hero. He leaves the Philippines to make it even bigger, conquering the world again and again . . . We love Bola! What does TIME mean by influential? Is that why we hardly progress? Pacquiao’s adorers in media would have us all Filipinos believe we are still in the mythical age?

He is the living national hero, adored by 97 million Filipinos. Minus one, please, I don’t! What heroism for the nation has he done? What did he sacrifice for? For himself and kept all his rewards to himself! That is not to begrudge him. He has the right to do what he wants with his legitimate earnings. Sure! He did not ask to be adored as an idol. But hero-worship cum idolatry is not heroism-bred.  

 “Pacman’s” rags-to-riches saga inspires millions of young, poor Filipinos, and even future generations, to strive for excellence, to believe that with sheer hard work, they can break the country’s caste system. Bola, again! An overstatement! Is this a reality happening? Where? Is he really that exemplary and inspiring? Has he not joined that “caste system”?

He has! “When so many Filipinos live wretched lives, Pacquiao and his family live like maharajahs, throwing crumbs to poor people. They have mansions, several expensive cars, a helicopter, and, some say, a yacht, all trademarks of the conspicuous consumption of the filthy rich. When Pacquiao went to Leyte to distribute relief goods, he came in a private plane. Wife Jinkee is rumored to have a wall-to-wall cabinet full of signature bags each costing several thousands of pesos. If Imelda Marcos is obsessed with shoes, Jinkee is said to be obsessed with designer bags.

This Neal H. Cruz wrote in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column, “Tax amnesty for billionaire Pacquiao? Why?”, on December 6. Read more.

And, he has brought honors to the country! What honors? As “Honorable Member” of the House, he has regular salary and allowances. Yet, he serves in the stable of Freddie Roach and under Promoter Bob Arum’s business calendar. Is that honors for the Philippines? He seriously devotes his time not to fulfill his mandate as congressman but to earn millions of dollars for himself, Roach and Arum as well as Uncle Sam’s IRS while receiving regularly and fully his salary and allowances paid out of Filipino taxes.  Is that honorable?

What a misdirected popularity buildup! But, don’t blame Manny Pacquiao. It’s not his doing.  He has not asked for it.

 Political Buildup

Popularity is a bridge to power –political power in particular. Pacquiao was tempted to and took that bridge. In his first plunge into politics in 2007, he failed to capture the first congressional district of South Cotabato composed of General Santos City, Polomolok, Tupi and Tampakan. In his second bid in 2010, he won the lone congressional district of Sarangani with the mayors riding on his popularity and regional party. From then on, he has been on a political buildup.

In 2013, he was re-elected unopposed.  His wife, Jinkee, won as vice governor of Sarangani. He has solidified his hold on the Sarangani local officials. The erstwhile powerful Chiongbian clan has coalesced with him. Several of his party’s candidates won seats in the General Santos City Sangguniang Panlunsod. His brother lost by a small margin to incumbent Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr. in the congressional race. His brothers and in-laws won seats in two barangays in General Santos City in the last October election.

Media are building up the speculation that he will run for senator in 2016 then for president in 2022 when, at 42, he will be qualified. The international wire services have joined speculating.

Forget in the meantime the presidency. Can he win a seat in the Senate? Don’t underestimate his popularity.  It’s real. That he is idolized by the masses is real. Many in the Congress idolize him.

Again, read Neal H. Cruz referring to the sponsors of the bill to exempt Pacquiao from paying taxes: “…by coddling Pacquiao, they hope to gain some of the popularity that he has among the masses and, hence, more votes. Indeed, a couple of politicians position themselves beside or behind Pacquiao whenever cameras are pointed at him. By doing so, they hope to bask in the glory around the people’s champ.”

His popularity is being pitted against that of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III. In fact, [Rigoberto] Tiglao, a columnist for the Manila Times, contends that Pacquiao is now more popular. To prove that, he challenged, conduct a survey. In claiming that his tax case is political harassment, he is suggesting that he is seen by the President as a political threat. Vice President Jejomar Binay believes so. Many in the media are building that up especially after he was mobbed in Tacloban City by the typhoon victims, including Mayor Alfredo Romualdez, who felt abandoned by the President.

Popularity has catapulted many to power despite their lack of qualification. Pacquiao is now congressman. He can be senator in 2016. And, president in 2022!

Writings on the Wall

As used her “writings on the wall”, does not refer to the “handwriting on the wall” of King Belshazzar of Babylon but to writings on the wall of the Senate – the names and hints of movie actors and entertainers who were catapulted to the Senate primarily by their sheer popularity.

Rogelio de la Rosa broke the ground with his election to a six-year term, 1957-1963. He did creditably. He became ambassador to Cambodia and several East European countries. He was followed by Eddie Ilarde, a radio host, in 1972. After the Martial Law to the present: Joseph Estrada (1987-1992), Ramon Revilla Sr. (1992-2004), Tito Sotto (1992-2004; 2010-2016), Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.(2004-2010; 2010-2016), Lito Lapid (2004-2010; 2010-2016), and Jinggoy Estrada (2004-2010; 2010-2016). In the 2004 election, three movie actors won!

Their performances could be rated at best, “So-So”; at worst, “Forgettable”. Riding on his popularity, Joseph Estrada won as vice president, 1992-1998. Elected president in 1998 with overwhelming majority, he proved to be a catastrophe – forced to step down by people power in January 2001 following an aborted impeachment.

If the movie actors and media personality Ilarde won seats in the Senate, Manny Pacquiao, his forgettable run in the Lower House notwithstanding, is shoo-in for a Senate seat in 2016. Who knows? If his political buildup continues, he could be President Manny Pacquiao in 2022. The writings on the wall are interesting.

Should that happen, there will be two Ladies in Malacañang – First Lady Jinkee and First Grand Lady Dionisia. What could be more fabulous an ending than that to what Tiglao calls “rags-to-riches saga”!

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at