MANILA, Philippines (AP) — From five-star hotel lounges to army camps to Manila’s slums, Filipinos celebrated a victory by boxer Manny Pacquiao that gave this country a break from its financial worries.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a key supporter of Pacquiao, congratulated him by phone after he beat Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas.
“His triumph is again a great unifier of Filipinos,” Arroyo spokesman Jesus Dureza said. “While he was an underdog to bookies and matchmakers abroad, he was already a winner to all Filipinos.”
Amid many problems hounding the country, Pacquiao was a “saving grace,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.
“The winnings of Manny Pacquiao always come at the proper time,” Ermita said. “We have this economic downturn; suddenly the morale of the Filipino people is promptly boosted.”
De La Hoya has become the richest and most marketable star in boxing during a 16-year span. He had a big reach advantage and towered over Pacquiao, setting off fears he could outpunch the Filipino. Pacquiao’s mother, Dionisia, could not bear to see her son fight such an opponent.
“I was nervous in the beginning because Oscar De La Hoya was big,” she said. “I didn’t want to watch and I just ran to the prayer room with my friends,” she said. “Our prayers were powerful.”
Pacquiao came up two weight classes to fight De La Hoya and raised his record to (48-3-2, 36 knockouts). De La Hoya (39-6) dropped down to meet him at 147 pounds.
During the bout, many of the usually bustling Manila streets were empty of traffic, and the police reported few crimes.
When De La Hoya declined to come out after the eighth round, cheering and jeers rose to a roar in many parts of the country. Fans yelled Pacquiao’s name, waved Philippine flags, and threw punches in the air.
Enrique Ancheta, 67, was among some 2,000 fans who jammed inside a small stadium in the agricultural city of Cauayan, about 175 miles from Manila.
“Superb,” he said. “That’s David slaying Goliath.”
Pacquiao was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, Mindanao and resides in his hometown of General Santos City, South Cotabato, Philippines. He is married to Maria Geraldine Pacquiao and has three children and another on the way. ♦