To say that the Philippines loves Manny Pacquiao is an understatement. On Sunday, the professional boxer was raucously celebrated here in Tacloban City when he defeated Timothy Bradley, reclaiming the WBO welterweight title and cementing his comeback as a boxing icon.
I spent the night in downtown Tacloban on Saturday only to wake up Sunday morning to what could be described as Pacquiao Madness. Most of the bars and shops lining the streets of the city had signs broadcasting viewings of the fight. I spent the morning running errands in the pouring rain and was greeted by most shop owners with the question of whether I was going to watch the fight later in the day. My answer of “yes” was met every time by delighted grins and nods.
Pacquiao – lovingly known as Manny “Pacman” in the boxing world – is also a politician in the Philippines. In 2010, he was elected to the House of Representatives to represent the province of Sarangani. He was re-elected in 2013. He’s often described as the “most famous man in the Philippines.” Not only is he a beloved politician and athlete, for Filipinos struggling to rebuild following Typhoon Haiyan, his boxing career comeback symbolizes hope.
I joined a group of volunteers to watch the fight at the Tacloban City Astrodome, where thousands of Tacloban residents found refuge during the typhoon. Just as during Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans residents took refuge at the Superdome, Filipinos found safety in the ruined stadium for weeks; setting up camp inside the building and in the storefronts and grass lining the exterior.
Four months later and the stadium is no longer used as a refuge, however it’s condition is still in disarray. The interior bleacher seats are ravaged and dirty. There is no basketball court to speak of and half of the roofing at the apex of the structure are missing. Since we watched the game during a heavy rainfall, the projector was placed on the side of the building that still had ceiling coverage. The large screen played the fight with a curtain of water raining down just feet behind it.
You would never know the dreary condition of the stadium by the looks of delight and glee on the faces of the Filipinos watching the fight inside. When I arrived, the stadium was packed. You could barely squeeze through the entrance. Tacloban residents stood on tip toes to watch from the stairs; craning their heads to reach over the hundreds of Filipinos standing and sitting in the stands to watch the fight.
Every time Pacquiao jabbed Bradley or dodged his attacks, the stadium erupted in raucous cheers. Shots of Bradley taunting Pacquiao were met with laughter. The Filipinos watching seemed to have utter faith in their champion. When Pacquiao was declared the winner in a 12-round decision, the erupting cheers were deafening.
For Tacloban residents, Manny Pacquiao symbolizes strength, resilience and the determination to rise up again. As one Filipino man I spoke to murmured as we walked from the stadium, “He keeps fighting, like Tacloban.”
Tindog Tacloban (Rise Up Tacloban)
(Note from the editor. Ariel Neidermeier is a San Francisco Bay Area resident volunteering with All Hands for the rebuilding efforts in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. You can catch up with all of Ariel Neidermeier’s exclusive blogs on AsAmNews about her journey here.)