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The bigger and brighter star

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It took me awhile to write this piece about Manny Pacquiao.

I waited for the euphoria of his May 7 victory to settle down so focus can be given instead to his startling announcement on his May 4 press conference about fighting poverty because, true to what he said, this could be the better part of his career and the biggest challenge of his life, and he needs help in this area according to my friend and patriot Conrado de Quiros , much more than what the best coach like Fred Roach can do for him in the ring. He needs to surround himself with life coaches who have passion for the game of ending our people’s suffering through authentic nation-building initiatives.

This is a harder fight but one that every Filipino must strive to win, not just Manny. We need to take on this fight with all seriousness so that the words of the most popular Filipino in the world will not be empty nor allow him to fall flat on his face. His failure in this arena will be ours as well though it is still the unfortunate poor and the hapless weak who will bear the consequences, as usual, when the rich and the powerful break their promises to better their lives.

I am deeply grateful though to Manny for the courage to take it on.

I hope those who heard him will take seriously what he said.

“The biggest fight of my life is how to end poverty in my country. This Saturday I am wearing yellow gloves as a symbol of unity and hope to end poverty. I am joining Gawad Kalinga to help build homes and provide livelihood for the poor.”

Some friends asked when they head this on prime time news “is that for real?” My standard reply was ” I believe it is.”

Yes, I took the message very seriously. To me, it is about the greatness of the Filipino spirit that is waiting to break forth. I saw it as a sincere desire to serve his country, after I first heard the video clip he sent to us at the GK Hope Ball in Las Vegas last April 30 addressed to patriots and nation-builders in North America.

“Gusto ko ring maging bayani para sa mahirap katulad ninyo sa Gawad Kalinga.”

That message, matched by the presence of Vice President Jejomar Binay and Camsur Governor LRay Villafuerte, moved an overflow crowd of successful Filipino Americans at Monte Carlo ballroom that raised $350,000 to help 150 homeless families in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. Manny has the power to inspire greatness in others, when used for trustworthy and transcendent causes.

To be champion of compassion for the homeless and the hungry will raise him to a higher level of greatness in the eyes of the world where two thirds of the population suffer from poverty, with dire consequences on the environment, health and peace and many are looking for effective solutions.

Even his opponent Mosley applauded his noble intention and showed admiration, when the norm is to engage in trash talk to provoke anger as adversaries. USA Today devoted one full page to Manny’s noble gesture of kindness; Paris Hilton ran to his side because this makes him the bigger and brighter star (aside from the fact that he probably earns more than her now at $30 million per fight). Putting his heart into poverty busting will make him greater than Muhammad Ali, who showed great courage in the ring and in fighting Parkinson’s disease. This is not a fight that can be faked or one for the faint-hearted. I have no doubt in Manny’s courage in the ring. Nation-building however, is another thing, demanding blood, sweat and tears without financial or political reward.

If he takes good counsel he will join the world of stars with big causes like Oprah Winfrey for Africa. He can be the bigger star for the Philippines with the challenging mission of uniting Filipinos everywhere to fight poverty together, instead of fighting each other. When armed with concrete proof of concept, he can show other poor countries that it can be done: that solidarity

of the best with the least to achieve justice and peace, to build empowered communities for productivity and prosperity can end poverty.

His greatness as a boxer is unquestioned. There’s nothing for him to prove in the ring anymore. He can retire anytime, though the money is still good, especially if he uses it to fund his mission and to inspire his legion of admirers with deep pockets and big hearts to match his generosity.

If he stops at being the world’s greatest boxer, he will be in the sports history books but a fickle world will soon forget him. However, if he uses his current status as the greatest reigning and the highest earning boxer to help end poverty, the world will continue to listen and hold him in the highest esteem. He can also tell his global admirers about our deepest aspiration to rise as a nation – that we have poverty and corruption in the Philippines but we are seriously doing something about it.

He now has the gravitas together with our President to make yellow the color of hope to end poverty as pink is for cancer and red is for HIV. Tita Cory made yellow the color of courage to mount a peaceful revolution in 1986; Gawad Kalinga adopted it as the color of its people power over poverty movement in 2003; PNoy won the Presidency hands down with his yellow army. Yellow power is still our President’s greatest weapon in his current battle against corruption which is a difficult and dangerous mission. Manny’s decision to wear yellow gloves was a wise and generous gesture of solidarity with our President.

I have great faith in their tremendous power to be a transcendent force of unity and hope if they seek the good of the nation above self-interest and beyond partisan politics. I hope they will not allow any political issue to divide them for the sake of the suffering poor.

My trust in PNoy is steadfast because he has the guts to pursue change in a system that has institutionalized, rewarded and protected dishonesty, despite the risks to his life and popularity. Change will not come easy or happen overnight and critics are a dime a dozen. He is far from perfect but so am I and, more so, many hopeless cynics who see no hope in this country or in him. I do not agree with some of his decisions but fully support the many things he has done right or want to accomplish.

But above all, PNoy is my President who deserves my respect, loyalty and total support until he ends his term or breaks my trust. I am a senior citizen who is sick and tired of partisan politics and want to change mind-sets that protect vested interests and perpetuate injustice. If we can be less self-serving and more just ourselves, then we can work with him and whoever will succeed him after his term to achieve our goal of ending poverty in our country by 2024.

This is a clear vision and an open agenda which I shared with Manny when I visited him last April 21 in his home in Los Angeles in the company of rabid GK advocates and Pacquiao fans Tony Olaes and Rick Munda. The meeting was arranged by GK USA head Tony 0laes with Rob Peters(Manny’s head of security) and Atty Frank Gacal (his Chief of Staff in congress), two people who impressed me with their loyalty to Manny as a friend and a boxing legend and their wisdom to understand his potential to be a bigger star by becoming a great patriot and hero, one who will build homes for the homeless and provide jobs and food for the jobless and the hungry.

Our meeting was brief as he champion had to catch mass with his wife that Holy Thursday, but we stayed on with his team for another hour to discuss the value of this cause to the poor, to our country, to the world… and to Manny.

This cause will show the world the good qualities in the boxing icon that I have seen up close – his intelligent heart that can understand nobility and greatness beyond money, his kindness that extends beyond family and his generosity that will not end with charity and dole out. He has strong intuition to understand higher value and good instinct to rise above people and issues that can destroy everything that he has built.

It was not difficult for Manny Pacquiao to see clearly that the Gawad Kalinga path of nation-building – of caring and sharing – is his path as well.

Now, hopefully, we can begin our fight together to end poverty.

* We can start with round one in Saranggani by building sustainable communities, homes, schools, farms, hospitals and health care to create a platform for good citizenship and productivity in his home province. Then also help other poor provinces in the country in round 2.

* He can champion the Volunteerism for Nation-building House Bill 4374 with its main proponent, Speaker Sonny Belmonte.

* Use his star power to inspire Filipinos everywhere to hope for our country and to care for our people.

The list of great things we can do together to end poverty at home and make our country great is endless.

One thing is very clear to me, and hopefully, to Manny as well who was an askal like me. It is not enough that we are out of poverty ourselves; we have to help an entire nation rise with us. We must leave no one behind.

It is in bringing our people out of darkness that will make every Filipino a bigger and brighter star.

That is true greatness.

By Tony Meloto




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