Pacquiao’s Alamodome Campaign

I don’t know if it was planned, but I agree that Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao bringing to the world his campaign for a congressional seat in the Philippines was initially amusing. When I gave it more thought, however, I realized the act was not flattering at all to us Filipinos. And I doubt if it would have an impact on Manny’s run.

Pacquiao wasn’t able to personally file his certificate of candidacy; his trusted lawyer Jeng Gacal did it for him. Thus, while Manny was still at the Wild Gym preparing for his April 15 fight with Mexican Jorge Solis in Texas, his rival, Darlene Antonino-Custodio, had sprinted ahead in the campaign in the contested South Cotabato district.

I doubt if Custodio even knew what was coming, although her lawyer, Sixto Brillantes, did attempt to bar the coverage of the fight in South Cotabato. That effort failed because, aside from the difficulty of preventing the coverage, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) felt that Pacquiao-Solis was legit news. Comelec was partly correct.

But it didn’t reckon with the Philippine flag. When cameras focused on that flag, cutouts of the letters “V-o-t-e” were on the blue field and cutouts of the letters “M-a-n-n-y” were on the red field. Somebody waved a cartolina with the message “Goodbye Darlene.” Announcer Michael Buffer referred to Pacquiao as “congressional candidate.”

Those scenes were picked up by even the clueless reporters, thus stories on Manny’s eight-round KO of “El Coloradito” were always accompanied by references to the Filipino boxer’s candidacy. If elections were won by publicity stunts alone, then Darlene’s run has become a losing proposition in the face of Manny’s juggernaut.

But Custodio and even the Comelec are not complaining. Comelec officials closed their eyes on Pacquiao’s international campaigning and Darlene rode on the crest of the Manny wave. Television footages showed her clapping her hands and shouting herself hoarse when her political rival won his bout. She’s also a Pacquiao fan, she said.

For me, however, that politicking at the Alamodome’s “Blaze of Glory” fight was objectionable. And I am not even mentioning here the obvious desecration of our flag. That campaigning in San Antonio only proved the description of us Pinoys as being too obsessed with politics—that we eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, even for snacks.

And will that be enough to make Pacquiao win? Elections are not only about money and popularity. In a mainly rural district like South Cotabato, it is also about machinery and the politico-economic dynamics there. Inday Nita Daluz was at the height of her popularity when she ran in the Durano-ruled fifth district in Cebu. She lost.

I don’t know how extensive the campaign machinery of Pacquiao is in South Cotabato, but I am sure that Darlene, being an Antonino, has an organization that has taken roots in many areas there. Manny’s campaign people need more than just their boss’ popularity in winning over Custodio’s leaders to their side and thus weaken her machinery.

Custodio acting cool amidst Pacquiao’s publicity juggernaut is deceptive. That could be a sign she is confident that her political machinery in her district will hold despite assaults from Manny’s camp. The key now is for Pacquiao to translate whatever advantage he got in the Alamodome campaign into votes. That could be difficult.

–I wrote this for the April 18, 2007 issue of Sun.Star Cebu

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