It may not be unanimous, but Manny Pacquiao wins his biggest decision yet
The polls close in 30 minutes and the congressional candidate is getting a rubdown on the couch.
It is the last calm before the chaos. In the next 24 hours, his biggest prayer will come true.
It is Monday, Election Day in the Philippines, and there are several ways to describe what goes on here. “Bizarre” works.
The only reason you are reading about this in the sports pages is that the congressional candidate is one of the greatest boxers of all time. To win this election, as he has all his fights since 2005 and 51 of his 56 overall, would be to make history. After all, when was the last time a world-renowned athlete, in his prime, caucused and clenched at the same time?
Manny Pacquiao is on the couch in the family room of his home. They call it The Mansion. It is very nice, but would turn no heads in Beverly Hills. As a young woman named Rachel works his calves and thighs through his blue jeans, Pacquiao juggles several cellphones and a portable radio. Reports are coming in from the field. He is optimistic.
The TV drones on in the background. For hours, the same crawls have drifted across the bottom of the screen: Three voting machines have malfunctioned somewhere. . . . Voting lines are four hours long somewhere else. . . . Manny Pacquiao cast his vote in Sarangani.
This is the first time they have used electronic voting machines in the Philippines. Next up, the introduction of the Easel. There is controversy everywhere. Many hate this newfangled idea, even though a few results of the last big election in 2007, from a hand-counted vote, were reversed as recently as two months ago.
The new setup has people filling out long ballots and inserting them into a machine that resembles a paper shredder. Greasy or smudged hands could void the ballot. Same thing if it’s not inserted exactly as the guides on the machine indicate.
Controversy is the order of the day, at least according to TV. It has a bumbling Inspector Clouseau feel to it. Save us, Peter Sellers.
So confident was the man from a company called Smartmatic that created the voting system, that he handed his passport over to Philippine officials late last week. It was quickly accepted.
The Election Day holiday drones on through early afternoon with few developments. Nothing is happening and Philippine television breathlessly reports all of it.
Upstairs, the candidate naps, then emerges about 4:30. He takes command of a dining room table and plops down three cellphones and a walkie-talkie. He is quickly upstaged by his 16-month-old daughter, whose name works perfectly as a description. Dark-eye, cute-as-bug Queen Pacquiao sits in her daddy’s lap and tries to get her own answers out of the walkie-talkie.
“She’s an American,” Pacquiao says. “She was born in Los Angeles.”
By 6:30, rubdown time, the day is looking up. Incoming calls bring optimism. It is huge news. Also shocking. His opponent is from one of the most powerful families in the Philippines.
At one point, a smiling Pacquiao puts down his mobile toys and declares that his team has won with special tactics. “We hit them with an atomic bomb,” he says.
At 7:30, it is time to go. A short trip away is a small cement-block house, the real command central. People work computers. There is a big board in the middle of the room with precincts and candidates scribbled in grease pen, amid wavy and unkempt lines.
A happy mood gets happier. Each reporting precinct brings an overwhelming victory. Disbelief turns to celebration. But there is a long night and another day of waiting ahead. The voting machines are spitting out results at the speed of an Edsel, but Philippine officials seem thrilled. Apparently, everything is relative.
It is not until late morning Tuesday that Pacquiao’s manager and right-hand man, Michael Koncz, the Canadian whose family lives in Orange County while he attends to all things Pacquiao more than 8,000 miles away, brings the news.
“He has won. It is now a matter of fact,” Koncz says. “It is mathematically impossible for him to lose now.”
As Pacquiao has done so often in the boxing ring with his lethal left hand, he has finished what he set out to do. The Philippine people, having balked in his first congressional attempt three years ago — apparently not wanting to lose a beloved athlete to the shady world of their own politics — nodded this time.
“I believe this is the biggest triumph in his life,” says Koncz. “I believe it is bigger than any fight he has ever won.”
All indications are that he will continue his boxing career. A November fight date is already the talk. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the obvious next challenge.
That one is tough to call. This one?
With enough precincts reporting, it is another knockout for Manny Pacquiao.