Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Fight on the Island

Many were disappointed when Pacquiao lost
By nine in the morning of May 3, people were starting to trickle in and in a short time almost filled the cavernous sports complex, actually a large court with a stage and a roof of iron sheets, in the town of Santa Fe.
They were watching a boxing match, but this was not any boxing match. It was a Manny Pacquiao bout. In the Philippines, a match involving the widely considered greatest Filipino boxer and one of the world’s greats nearly becomes a holiday, especially in Metro Manila, where work almost comes to a halt and many people are in their homes glued to the television. Even crimes take a noticeable dip. The May 3 event was not any Pacquiao fight. The eight-division world champion would be competing against prominent American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., the undefeated, five-division world champion, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The duel, aptly called “Battle for Greatness” or “The Fight of the Century,” was much anticipated for years.
In generally sleepy Bantayan Island in the Central Visayas, the most recent fight became a fanfare. Local government officials and their guests trooped to the complex. Several foreign tourists even joined the more the 2,000 attendees, donning the red cloth head band with the words Go Manny. The bulk of the audience was made of ordinary people—fishers, farmers, vendors, etc. Many of them brought their children, their parents, their families. Pacquiao is a hero to many, having risen from poverty and obscurity in General Santos City in way down south in Mindanao to the global limelight, the epitome of many Filipinos’ dreams. He has been hailed for bringing honor to the country. Over time, many things have been latched to his back. Some thanked him for unifying the country, some for bringing their families together through his matches.
For Pru Life UK, Pacquiao would serve as inspiration for the Bantayan people, who have been severely affected by supertyphoon Haiyan, the most devastating in recent times. The British life insurance company, which once had Pacquiao as one of its endorsers, brought the match live and free for public viewing to Santa Fe as well as to the two other towns of Bantayan Island—Bantayan, the largest municipality in the central part, and Madridejos, the island’s agricultural and livestock center in the northern part. It also sponsored live public viewing in other parts of the country—10 communities in Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Quezon, Albay, Aklan, Cebu and Northern Samar—which drew about 27,800 people.
“We want to lift the spirits of those fighting to recover from typhoon Yolanda. We are excited about the fight, but more than that we are inspired by every Filipino fighter from all walks of life. We saw the opportunity to bring the fight to those who do not have access to it, and we are overjoyed to be able to connect them to the rest of the world as we cheer on the ‘People’s Champ,’” said Antonio Manuel de Rosas, president and CEO of Pru Life UK, before the match. “Seeing the Cebuanos in Bantayan Island get back on their feet has been a truly a remarkable experience for our staff and volunteers. Helping them rebuild their homes is just the first step. We hope that watching this fight live gives them the opportunity to set aside their daily struggles as they join in this national celebration.”
Bantayan Island lies at the northwest tip of the island of Cebu, about 130 kilometers from the provincial capital Cebu City and surrounded by the Visayan Sea. To many, the island is known for its picturesque beaches. Many visitors, mostly from the main island of Cebu, are drawn by the long stretches of white-sand beaches, mostly concentrated in Sante Fe, where its port receives regular ferries from the main island. Tourists from Metro Manila and other parts of the country as well as foreigners had been increasing in recent years. Tourism was emerging to be a productive industry in the island whose leading industries are fishing and poultry and egg production.
When typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, arrived in the country in early November 2013, Bantayan lies directly on its path. The island was almost flattened. While casualties were much lower compared to other parts of the country, the typhoon damaged or completely destroyed much of the homes and wiped out livelihoods. Fortunately, relief efforts had been quick with several aid agencies coming in, including Prudence Foundation. Pru Life UK’s charitable arm has helped rebuild houses and has provided new motorized fishing boats and pedicabs with nearly 250 staff and agent volunteers from 10 countries across Asia and the United Kingdom. It promised a long-term effort in rebuilding, and still continues providing livelihood and rehabilitation to the people of Bantayan Island. Almost 90 percent of the population benefited, the foundation stated.
The public viewing was one of its rehabilitation efforts, where people packed to the gymnasium. Despite the summer heat, they patiently waited for the main event. For most of them, it was their first time to watch a Pacquiao fight live. Across the complex in the poblacion, the municipal hall was almost unrecognizable with its tattered eaves. Nearby, the Catholic church, the Santo NiƱo Church, was being completely rebuilt, larger and shinier. Vendors of snacks had gathered by the entrance as people continuous arrived.
When the match finally started near noon, the audiences were all eyes, loudly cheering whenever Pacquiao managed to pull a punch. But in the end, the judges unanimously declared Mayweather the champion. There was silence in the gym and most of the watchers quickly trooped out.
It was a painful to see our cock (meaning “bet,” an allusion to cockfighting) lost, expressed a group of fisher women. They said they went all the way from their home barangay in Bantayan to the gym on foot to watch the fight. They complained of being hungry and having no money for the fare home. They lingered around for a while as if waiting for something.
Some men were still in disbelief. Pacquiao was cheated of the title, one said, echoing the opinion of most people in the audience and of the whole country. It is a typical, almost automatic, Filipino reaction in the face of loss, especially during elections. Accusations of chicanery are a way of showing the non-acceptance of defeat. Another is taking on a favorable perspective: Pacquiao may have lost but he is still the champion for the people. We see what we want to see.
“Manny may not have won, but the resilient Pinoy spirit lives on!” Pru Life UK says. The company remains unruffled by the defeat and rallies the people to support Pacquiao ever more. The Filipinos will, of course, and they will continue to face their daily battles in life outside the gym.

The Santa Fe Sports Complex
A mother brought her children and their grandmother
The crowd got rambunctious
Even foreign guests and tourists joined the locals in watching the much-anticipated fight, donning the red head band
Hundreds of Bantayan locals trooped to the Santa Fe Sports Complex to watch the Mayweather-Pacquiao match live, cheering enthusiastically at each punch

A group of fishers' wives who came on foot

Isidoro, a retired employee, was still in disbelief and believes that Pacquiao was cheated.
Grandfather and grandson lingered after the match
Sugar Beach is a popular destination in Santa Fe
 Bantayan Island in Cebu is knwon for its picturesque beaches. It was directly hit by the super typhoon Haiyan, wiping out livelihoods


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