I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling, not least from my own household, about how lionizing Manny Pacquiao over his conquest of Oscar De La Hoya reveals our weaknesses and delusions. The overwhelming majority has bought into a societal illusion that an achievement by a single Filipino, a pugilist at that, validates our worth as a people. The Pacquiao saga is nothing but a circus that distracts us from the very real problems plaguing the country. Very good points, but the reasons we exalt over Manny Pacquiao’s triumphs are just as legitimate.
We do need heroes. Not heroes as historical abstractions, like Bonifacio and his bolo, or an amorphous mass like the Filipino OFW, but contemporary flesh-and-blood champions we can put a face to, no matter how homely. Like Manny Pacquiao.
And we need to mythologize our heroes, to make them larger-than-life. And Pacquiao fits the bill perfectly. He provides drama and pageantry to our drab lives. He has lived the beloved, age-old, near-universal narrative of the poor boy who makes good. By dint of sheer guts, hard work, resilience and, yes, faith in a higher power, he managed to achieve fame, wealth and glory. He literally had nothing but the shirt off his back when he started out as a boxer and through his God-given talent and determination, a bit of luck and the (not always altruistic ) kindness of strangers, he has scaled almost unimaginable heights. It helps that he’s so demonstrative of his religous beliefs (apparently authentic), which Pinoys love.
Heroes flesh out our fantasies and this is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we remain grounded. Obviously, not everyone can be a Manny Pacquiao. He’s one in eighty million. But he can serve as an inspiration and a symbol of what we can achieve as individuals, if not as a nation.
Not to worry, though. He will soon enough be brought down from his pedestal. The fate of all demigods is to be revealed as having feet of clay. He will go the way of Oscar De La Hoya in his own time. Meanwhile, there’s nothing wrong in celebrating the all too fleeting victories of a true champion.