COMMENT: Pacquiao the Boxer in Congress (2)

2nd of four parts

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindadNews/28 January) — Riches breed ambition for power fanned by the fame riches naturally brings. Yielding to this ambition, Pacquiao emerges in a new person with a new story.

 Pacquiao in Congress

 Pacquiao at the top of the boxing world is super boxer. Pacquiao in Congress is aspiring to be a super political leader riding on his present fame and riches. As a congressman, he is still a square peg in a round hole. Can he round the peg to fit the hole? That he must do before trying to fit bigger pegs into bigger holes.


But seeing the story of Pacquiao in Congress is not just wondering how “a square peg” can fit into “a round hole”. It is seeing Pacquiao’s worshippers elevate their icon to Congress to disprove a fallacy that has long been the curse, the “Filipino”, of Philippine politics: That popularity and wealth are the foremost qualifications of a good leader.


Looking at the lot the Filipino masses pine to be liberated from, this fallacy is the great irony of their own making. Will they find in Pacquiao an “idol” of different breed?  Can a super boxer gifted with nothing more than two fiery fists – masked in fame and billions — evolve into a super political leader metamorphosing from the urchin of Manila streets to Lord of the Malacanang Palace?


On the Record


What on the record speaks for Pacquiao in Congress?


As a neophyte, he is vice chairperson of three Committees: Millennium Development Goals; Poverty Alleviation; and Youth and Sports Development. He is a member for the majority in twelve others: Agriculture and Food; Aquaculture and Fisheries Resources; Basic Education and Culture; East Asean Growth Area; Energy; Housing and Urban Development; Mindanao Affairs; National Defense and Security; People’s Participation; Public Information; Public Works and Highways; Transportation.


As vice chairperson, his position is more than nominal; he presides in the absence of the chairperson. As majority member, he is expected to contribute his expertise – whatever he has. His low level of education and lack of research knowhow make him a square peg in a round hole. That he may be not the only member of Congress in that predicament is not comforting – not an excuse for false expectation.


In the First Session of the 15th Congress, media reported Pacquiao as having authored seven bills; however, the official report from Congress listed only five all pending with the committees. There is no report of their status after the adjournment on December 17, 2011 of the Second Congress. First of the five is HB O2379 to establish a tertiary hospital in Sarangani, his pet political promise. None of the four others is landmark legislation.


Four other measures he authored or sponsored are listed not as “HB” (House Bill) but as “PS” [Privilege Speech] numbered 00002, 00048, 00119, and 00333. The last two are his obvious responses to the honors conferred upon him by Congress and the popular acclaim. He co-authored 38 bills and resolutions. [Co-authorship can merely mean pakisama (camaraderie) for the record.]


Pacquiao was absent from 26 of the 70 plenary session days of the First Session, tied with Rep. Jules Ledesma of Negros Occidental – fourth behind Galing Pinoy Party List Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo (32), Abra Rep. Jocelyn Bernos (29) and Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo (27). In contrast, 132 of the 285 members of the House had perfect attendance. The “70” are the session days with quorum.


Until the last adjournment of the Second Session before Christmas 2011, there were 59 plenary sessions out of 69 session days. Pacquiao was absent from 32 plenary sessions – fourth behind Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo (51), Davao del Norte Rep. Anthony del Rosario (34), and Rep. Ignacio Arroyo (33). Media observed that when Pacquiao was not training for his fights, he attended the plenary sessions religiously.


So, What of It?


Should his absences be taken to mean Pacquiao is not a good congressman? Reports in media infer they are signs to the contrary reviling critics: Don’t just see the dark clouds; visualize the sun shining brightly behind them.


Sun Star-Manila’s headline on July 6, 2011, “Pacquiao authors 7 bills despite many absences”, that two online publications echoed that same day gave the media tone: If not for the absences, Pacquiao could have authored more than seven (five in official report) and co-authored more than 32.


It was reported Pacquiao had to make the absences to train for his fights in the U.S. In so justifying, Pacquiao’s boxing career is deemed primarily above his mandate as an elected congressman. And, he should be admired and thanked for doing his work “despite … his very busy schedule” preparing for his fights. Ignored is the conflict of interest.


Journal Online (May 13, 2011) wrote: “Pacquaio has not been attending sessions since November when he started training for his bout with Mosley”. Since Pacquiao fought Mosley on May 7 (May 8 in the Philippines), he had missed sessions for six months.


But in the same Journal Online report, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. defended Pacquiao against “critics who have asked the Sarangani lawmaker to resign [from his seat] or retire from boxing”. He said that “Pacquaio’s failure to perform his legislative duties … was justified by the glory and pride he brought to the country after his victory over Shane Mosley”.


Belmone explained: “Kung absent ka dahil may date ka, hindi okay iyun. Kung absent ka dahil you uphold the dignity  of the country, walang problema doon.” (Being absent due to a date is not okay; for upholding the dignity of the country is no problem.)


The justification is rooted on fallacy.


The reality, however, is that Pacquiao has the privilege from the Speaker to be absent from the sessions. While preparing for his November 13, 2010 fight vs. Margarito, the Speaker rejected his request to set up a training camp within the premises of Congress but was assured of 100 per cent support from Congress.


“Pacquiao will be excused from the sessions once his training begins,” GMANews.TV and other news media (August 12, 2010) quoted Belmonte. “It doesn’t matter if he’s late or absent for a couple of days. Sabihin niya (He can tell us) he’s doing a patriotic duty.”   


Conflict of Interest


The Speaker, more than any other person in Congress, should be gravely concerned that the conflict of interest between Manny Pacquiao, the multi-titled world super boxer, and Emmanuel D. Pacquiao, the congressman, is the conflict between professional boxing and Congress; it must not be taken lightly. Fallacy cannot justify mockery.


Pacquiao cannot be in plenary sessions of Congress at the same time that he is in training sessions for his multimillion dollar fights; when Congress is in adjournment, he cannot dialogue with his constituents to find out their needs at the same time that he is occupied with his trainer and promoter. Pacquiao’s option: His interest in boxing prevails over his mandate and duties in Congress.


And worse! While on training, he is paid fully for work in Congress in absentia. In that Mosley fight, he received his pay and other emoluments for the seven-month November – May period. And so were the members of his congressional staff. As usual, his staff did his routine in Congress; his chief of staff, lawyer Franklin M. Gacal Jr., former three-term kagawad of General Santos City, is an able proxy except in plenary sessions.


Following the May 2011 fight with Mosley, Pacquiao had his fight with Manuel Marquez on November 12, 2011. What time had he for Congress in 2011? He attended 36 session days, as reported, while still in the Philippines training for the Marquez fight. But how he attended, the record did not show the distraction.


Will Pacquiao’s attendance and performance improve in the remaining half of the Second Session and the Third Session of the 15th Congress? The conflict of interest will not end. He has a fight for June; expect another before 2012 ends. Rep. Emmanuel D. Pacquiao’s time is in the full control of Superboxer Manny Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, and trainer, Freddie Roach; but Congress pays him and his staff fully.


Speaker Belmonte sees no conflict of interest. Pacquiao need not resign as congressman or retire as super boxer. Some critics demanding so are wrong. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards 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   (To Be Continued Tomorrow)