Manny Pacquiao resides at the intersection of life, death, misery and showtime.
He is a professional boxer. His country, the Philippines, is a mess.
He is also a high-ranking government official, one of 289 members of the country’s 16th Congress. He is a national sports hero who prides himself on also being an accountable public servant.
The common phrase that refers to an impossible situation — “being between a rock and a hard place” — was made for this. When the Typhoon Haiyan roared through the middle of the Philippines a week ago, killing thousands and turning cities and countrysides into fields of debris and desperation, Pacquiao was 466 miles away from the center of it all, the city of Tacloban.
He is still 466 miles away.
He is training for his next fight, at home in General Santos City, in the southern-most area of a country that stretches its 7,107 islands nearly 1,000 miles from north to south. According to his trainer, Freddie Roach, when the typhoon hit to the north, there were no signs of it in GenSan, as they call it.
“It was very unusual,” Roach said. “It was sunny and hot. ... It didn’t come in our direction at all.”
So now, what is a congressman to do? What can a congressman do?
Is it even fair to ask the question, because the devastation isn’t in his district; because, from all reports, it’s difficult to get into the areas of devastation, and any celebrity/politician arrival might bring further logistical nightmares?
Or, is it not only fair, but necessary, to ask the question of Pacquiao? He is, after all, by far the most famous and celebrated of the current sitting congressmen. He is also likely as famous and influential to the general masses as the president himself, Benigno Aquino III, whose current position is one to which Pacquiao eventually aspires.
This is not George Bush, sitting in a grade school classroom, looking confused as he is told of planes flying into the World Trade Center. Still, for Pacquiao and those around him, it is a thorny problem. It is also an opportunity, depending on timing and how the people of the Philippines view that.
Soon after the disaster, Pacquiao made a statement from GenSan that said, “I really want to visit the area and personally do what I can to help our countrymen who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy. But I am in deep training for this crucial fight, so I regret that I cannot go.”
Clearly, the boxing operatives are in charge, where the political operatives might like to be.
Bob Arum, whose Top Rank Promotions has expertly orchestrated Pacquiao’s rise from unheralded, skinny little left-hander to international superstar, gets it and articulates the dilemma.
“We all have the same feeling of helplessness,” Arum said Wednesday. “It happened so far away. You can’t fly in there. What can you do?”
Arum said he and the Pacquiao camp have focused on something they can do, which is put on an entertaining fight on Nov. 23, when Pacquiao takes on Brandon Rios in a fancy casino in Macau. But Arum knows that sounds hollow and shallow.
“That’s probably small comfort to people going without food and water,” he said.
Arum’s Top Rank has donated about $23,000 (1 million Philippine pesos) to the relief effort. Pacquiao has dedicated the fight to typhoon victims. Arum says that, shortly after he and Pacquiao arrive in China on Monday, they will hold meetings with casino officials to see if more can be done. Arum said that Pacquiao will then be accessible to the media, where topics certainly will be boxing, typhoons, congressional responsibility and wherever that twain shall meet.
Or should have.
Arum admits that the public relations opportunities ahead in China will be unprecedented. That’s assuming those aren’t perceived to be too late.
The $64,000 question is clear.
Will a great boxing victory, a get-the-country’s-mind-off-its-suffering victory, be the most important contribution Congressman Pacquiao can make at this moment?
Or will the wrenching story written in Wednesday’s Times by Sunshine de Leon and Barbara Demick provide fodder for thoughts of what might have been?
The story told of 65-year-old Narcissa Abordo, caring for grandson and granddaughter as the storm hit and the water surged — “10 feet in 10 seconds,” she said.
Abordo helped the grandchildren to the second floor of a neighbor’s house to get above the water. Then Abordo, who could not swim and was saved by hanging onto her son, was swept away, from one tin roof to another.
Later, she was told that her grandchildren became frightened and, one after another, jumped into the water, yelling as they did, “Mama, mama, papa.”
The story reported that her grandson’s body had been found, but not her granddaughter’s.
“I think she is nearby,” Abordo said, “because I saw her skirt when I walked down a street.”
For Pacquiao, which path of action will eventually be deemed as the best taken in tragedy?
Will it be a nationalism-stirring victory, an exciting night of showtime in a boxing ring? Or would it have been a willing hand, clutched to Narcissa Abordo, walking through the streets and looking for a skirt?
Only time, and future Philippine elections, will tell.