When Pacquiao Fights, An Odd Thing Happens In The Philippines
A phenomenon happens in Manny Pacquiao's home country every time he stages a fight - everything grinds to a halt.
Another Pacman Blockbuster
All boxing fans worldwide know there is a big fight this weekend. On Saturday night, June 9, eight-division world champion Manny "The Pacman" Pacquiao will defend his WBO Welterweight title against undefeated Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
I have read many predictions, commentaries, analyses by top boxing and sports writers leading to fight night. Even the regular guy on the street has something to say - a forecast, a side remark, a praise, a bet in favor of either combatant. I will not add to that.
Instead, I will give a run-down of what usually happens in the Philippines every time its most celebrated citizen, billionaire congressman, and national hero steps into the ring. It has happened before in many of Pacman's earlier fights and guaranteed to happen again this weekend (Sunday morning till noon, June 10, in the Philippines).
The country of 7,107 islands with a population of 90 million will literally be at a standstill.
The nation's capital, Metro Manila, is known for its horrendous traffic. Vehicular volume during Sundays in major thoroughfares is generally light. But on a Pacquiao fight, the highways will still be lighter with a few public utility transport plying their routes. You can zip along comfortably within 30 minutes the historic 25-kilometer EDSA highway which dissects Metro Manila. In normal rush hour traffic, it would take three hours!
Free Public Screenings
In the small towns in the provinces, the scene takes on an apocalyptic aftermath. The sidewalk and streets are deserted. There is an eerie silence, punctuated only by the barking of dogs. Where are the town folks? They are all gathered either at the public square or the municipal gymnasium or usually both, where local government officials have set up giant screens and showing free and live via satellite the Pacquiao fight. It's a subtle gesture on the part of officials who hope to be remembered by the people for their graciousness when local election comes around.
Where To Watch
Meanwhile, this scene of free public viewing is replicated in every other barangay or county, in every municipality and city, big or small, all over the country. The city people and those who can afford watch in the private comfort of their homes via pay per view which cost 900 Philippine peso (roughly $20) while others prefer watching at mall theaters for 300 pesos (approx. $7). Theaters normally interrupt their regular movie runs and show a live Pacman fight instead. It is a lucrative day for theater owners.
The Poor Won't Miss Out
Those are expensive options for many Filipinos of whom 30 percent live below the poverty line. But that doesn't stop the impoverished horde from watching a Pacman fight. So off they go to the nearest public venue where a free screening has been set up by local officials. They find the venue bursting at the seams with people who were already there early in the morning to get the best viewing spots.
Elsewhere, it is a day of congregation. A predominantly Catholic country and this being a Sunday, people flock to church early because by 9:00 the under card bouts would have started. It is a congregation and reunion for middle-income families, as relatives come over to the family where there is pay per view. It is like a party. Host families actually prepare food and drinks as if there is a clan gathering.
Authorities Watch Too
At the headquarters of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines both in Metro Manila, giant screens are set up at their respective gymnasium for free viewing of their personnel. The men in uniforms, the good guys, do not want to miss this. So do the bad guys.
It is a known fact, reported by the police units themselves, that there is zero incidence of crime during the two to three hours of a Pacman extravaganza. Hours off and R&R for the criminals too!
Cessation of Hostilities
Another incredible story has been documented and reported on local news media. Even communist rebels, waging a three-decade war with the government, hiding in mountains in the hinterlands unofficially go on a ceasefire, temporarily halting their clashes against the military to watch Pacman in action. High up in their remote camps they reportedly have satellite receivers and get live feed. They are a well-equipped, techno-savvy bunch.
All the above scenarios will have a repeat this weekend. As Philippine Independence Day will be celebrated two days after the Pacquiao-Bradley encounter, a patriotic spirit is now being felt. The mood and atmosphere is festive. Cars carry small flags. Buildings display larger ones. This early, thousands of public venues nationwide are being prepped up for free screening for the masses.
Actually, the deadening stillness in the streets is only momentary. Once the bell rings signalling the start of the big fight, the madness erupts. For every Pacman jab and punch that hit its target, there will be common, corresponding roars and rejoicing from an eager, watching nation.
Until the knockout punch, the referee stopping the fight or the judges rendering their decision, everything freezes. What follows is national collective hysteria. It has been that way for the last 14 successive wins of the Filipino boxing icon.