COMMENT: Pacquiao the Boxer in Congress (3)

3rd of four parts

 GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/29 January) — As a boxer and Filipino, has Emmanuel Pacquiao done much good for his country? Certainly! He made the sports world, American especially, take notice of the Philippines. He has given boxing in the Philippines the needed boost – inspiring promising Filipino boxers. For these, he deserves honors.

He is most popular, idolized as a national hero. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo proclaimed him the role model for the Filipino youth. For that, she conferred the highest national honors on Pacquiao. So did Speaker Belmonte adulate Pacquiao for “the glory and pride he has brought the country” to justify his abandonment of duties in Congress.


Are the honors not more than deserved?


Pacquiao is a professional boxer. Who does he represent in his fights? Primarily, isn’t it his person — only incidentally, the country? As congressman, who does he represent in his fights — Congress or his person? For whom does he sacrifice – the Filipino people? Has he not sacrificed Congress and his District for his personal and his family interests? These are debatable issues to sift fallacy from truth.


Only amateur boxers and athletes train at the expense of government as the country’s representatives in international sports competitions. They reap honors for their country. The medals and cash prizes they win are incentives for them to excel and win more honors for their country. When they turn professional, they are primarily on their own. Even if their countrymen share the pride for their excellence, they keep their earnings for their private interests.


That Pacquiao has the privilege to abandon his duties and mandate as congressman with pay and spend his time to pursue his professional boxing career to earn millions of dollars for himself and his American promoter and trainer is anomalous. For the House Speaker to justify the anomaly with whatever “pride and glory” Pacquiao incidentally brings for the country intrigues. That the anomaly passes for heroism is fallacy unseen or ignored.


By the Rules


The privilege Pacquiao enjoys as boxer in Congress exposes the so-so provisions in the Rules of the House concerning the ethical conduct of its members. Regarding conflict of interests, the rules are silently permissive.


In its “Code of Conduct” (Article XIX of House Rules), Section 138, sub-sections c, d, e, f, the House adopted Sections 12, 13 and 14 of Article VI (The Legislative Department) of the 1987 Constitution. But there’s nothing in the Constitution – so, too, in Rules – that expressly or tacitly states when the practice by any member of the House of his or her profession in private conflicts with the interests of Congress.


Obviously, it is just left to the ethical sense of the members. For instance, a member may teach in a university or college. If this does not sacrifice the member’s time or duties in Congress, there is no conflict of interests. Of course, silence in the Rules is open to abuse.


Section 138(a) reads: “A Member shall act at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.” Coincidentally, the same rule applies to a “role model”. This brings into question Pacquiao’s looks and behavior while endorsing San Miguel beer in a drinking session advertisement. He would not shave and appear in military cut when receiving honors from the military as he has to look fierce for his fights. Is that how a member of Congress should act?  Is that the model for the Filipino youth?


Before Pacquiao became congressman, several congressmen had gone to the U.S. just to watch his fights; after, not only “several” but “many” were at the ringside. As reported, when he fought Marquez last November 12, the members of Congress who flew to Las Vegas could form a quorum. How consonant was that with Section 138(a) of the Rules?


There’s nothing in the rules that discourages absenteeism –nothing that sanctions moral turpitude.  A member facing criminal cases in court is considered in good standing until proven guilty in final judgment. Then Rep. Romeo Jalosjos was allowed to hold office in prison – in fact, reelected while in prison – until his conviction for rape was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Rep. Ecleo had been absent to evade arrest for murder and reported 45 of his 51 absences as due to “official business.”


By the existing House Code of Conduct, Pacquiao’s pursuit of his boxing career does not conflict with the interests of Congress. During his fights, he is introduced as a Philippine congressman. He is honored. By Section 138(a), is that also an honor to Congress?


The “Filipino” in Politics


However, don’t fault Pacquiao. The “Filipino” in politics that considers popularity and money as the foremost qualifications for any elective post carried him to Congress and together with the House Rules made his mandate and House duties secondary to his boxing profession.


After earning his first million dollars, Pacquiao, as reported, worked for accreditation to graduate high school. Once accredited, he enrolled in a college in General Santos City as a special student to allow him to continue in boxing. But he changed his mind. With his immense popularity and money, what need is there for a college degree? Why not enter politics?


So he did! He lost in his first try to wrest the first district of South Cotabato and General Santos City from Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio in 2007. But in his second try, he rode on the “Filipino” to win the lone district of Sarangani from the politically entrenched Chiongbian dynasty.


Though unprepared for Congress, he was encouraged and assured that he had the good qualities of a congressman with potentials for higher political leadership — these coming from respectable people as well as his avid advocates.


Just a month after the 15th Congress had opened, Speaker Belmonte said in the House “…we are 100 percent supportive of Congressman Pacquiao. I myself know that he intends to be a real hard-working congressman.  He wants to make a difference in the province of Sarangani if not for the country.”


Referring to Pacquiao’s July 27, 2010 privilege speech, Belmonte was all praise: “He is well informed and doing his best. [That]  I thought was a very well crafted speech.” In that speech, Pacquiao pledged to give the people of Sarangani livelihood, their first hospital and schools. He believed that “… with my heart in the right place, my work ethic, my discipline and my commitment to learn from wiser and more experienced people … I can become a good congressman”.


In ABS-CBN News (November 16, 2010), Dean Edna Co of the UP National College of Public Administration portrayed Pacquiao as having so much potential in politics despite his unorthodox background. With his open mind to learn, he “can change in two or three years”; opt “not [to] be confined to the legislature” but run for higher executive posts. Pacquiao took a two-week course at the UP-NCPA before assuming his seat.

Pacland’s Philboxing Forum, obviously Pacquiao’s online advocate, reminded critics: Don’t underestimate Pacquiao. With his great achievements in boxing, it means he’s smart and intelligent in strategies. He could have been using it in Congress by creating bills.” Another online Pacquiao advocate, News, listed as his No. 1 achievement: “Leads opposition to the passing of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill.”


Popularity and wealth – particularly the first – complemented with genuine leadership qualities would make a political leader a true blessing to his people and country; coated in praises and speculations, they might create only pretenders to leadership. Pacquiao is facing his acid test in Congress: First, how well on the way is he in rounding the square peg that he is to fit into the round hole that Congress is? Second, how is he living up to the great expectation cast around him? (“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)