Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pacquiao fighting poverty

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Filed Under: Pacquiao, Poverty, Hospitals and Clinics, Government Aid, Benigno Aquino III
(Most Read)

IT WAS not his protestation of strength, speed and fist power that impressed me and gave me a hmmm moment. It was what he said about the greatest fight of his life. And he was not referring to any of the countless matches with formidable pugilists that brought him multiple world boxing titles and proved him to be among the world’s greatest boxers of all time.
It was what Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao said at the press conference before last Sunday’s Pacquiao-Mosley match (that he would win, of course) in Las Vegas. He declared that the greatest fight of his life is yet to be, and that is fighting poverty in his beloved country. He said this in a simpler way, in English. I am paraphrasing.
I have no interest in the brutal sport of boxing per se, but one cannot be disinterested in the culture it spawns, the icons it produces and what becomes of them.

Pacquiao was not a stranger to poverty. Everyone knows that the life of penury is all behind him. But he was now declaring before the world a personal war against poverty even while his fans were more preoccupied with their bets and securing seats in countless viewing venues all over the islands. His declaration seemed lost in the din of excitement and anticipation.

But not entirely. We will not forget those two sentences. Already, we are told, Pacquiao is interested to partner with Gawad Kalinga whose massive housing for the poor has earned national and international recognition and drawn volunteers from all over the world.

But I will not be surprised if Pacquiao would want to invent a distinct project of his own that would be supported not just by funds from being a congressman from Sarangani, but from the massive wealth that he has earned from his skull-breaking fights. And while he has survived them all, many of his admirers and supporters, his mother most of all, are praying that he would hang up his gloves. A wayward punch from a lesser opponent could spell brain damage and everything will be for naught. That might be hard to visualize but that could happen. And who knows what those punishing blows have wrought on his body over the years?

When he said his greatest fight would now be against poverty, I knew his soul has not gone the way of his body. (He’s beginning to suffer cramps.)

Pacquiao is now one of the richest citizens of the Philippines, his hundreds of millions (now a billion or so, we are told) earned from his fights, product endorsements and pay-per-view revenues. What can one do with all that except to share some of it? One should not begrudge the lavish feasting at home after every victory and his mother Dionisia’s fun parties. That means that here at home a lot of money goes around and down to the humble street sweeper. (Hermes bags costing millions of pesos and made in Europe are another story.)

So how will Pacquiao wage war against poverty? His efforts deserve watching. President Benigno Aquino III had pledged P200 million for Pacquiao’s hospital project in Sarangani that would serve the poor. But that’s not Pacquiao’s money.

Many would be eager to know how Pacquiao and his anti-poverty advisers would create an anti-poverty program that is sustainable. Sustainability is a not-so-new catchword that is not easy to spell on the keyboard (it’s a finger-twisting word even for me who types fast), a 14-letter word that journalists would rather have a substitute for. But there is no substitute for sustainability.

Wikipedia defines sustainability as: “the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. For humans, sustainability is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which has environmental, economic and social dimensions.”

And so there is sustainable agriculture, sustainable ecology and sustainable development. The most-often quoted definition of sustainable development is development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The translation in Filipino that got the most votes in Yahoo Answers is “mapapanatiling pag-unlad o makakayanang pag-unlad.” Oh well, just say sustainable this or that. Or whatever Pacquiao prefers to use in his fight against poverty.

There is nothing one can teach Pacquiao about poverty. He was born into it. There is nothing most of us can teach him about being a billionaire because we are not. But there is a lot Pacquiao can learn from the not-poor who have worked and walked among the poor because it is their choice and calling. There are many anti-poverty foundations with great track records on sustainability that he can learn from. There are projects on microfinance, sustainable agriculture among farmers, housing for the homeless, health and food security, women’s livelihood, education, children, the aging, OFWs.

All Pacquiao should do is ask. If Congressman Pacquiao did a crash course on governance to prepare himself for politics, he (or his advisers) should also do a crash course on poverty alleviation programs that are sustainable.

But sometimes one despairs a little. The Philippines being sometimes called the NGO capital of Southeast Asia, and with the countless anti-poverty projects and the millions of foreign funding poured into it, why have the majority not moved far from the poverty line?

Anyway, I end this rumination by sharing what I learned from my interview, years ago, with Gustavo Gutierrez, father of liberation theology, friend of the poor, priest and proudly Peruvian. “Poverty,” he told me “is the first violence.”

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