“Miracles do happen. Dreams do come true. Being poor does not mean one must die poor. Hard work and persistence will set you free from the shackles of poverty. But it is faith that will take you to the very top.”
With those words, Filipino boxing legend and Senator Many Pacquiao captivated the hearts of Londons’ Oxford University students, members of the Oxford Union Debating Society and their guests when he spoke before them on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).
“That is Manny Pacquiao’s story so I ask you — all of you — to never lose faith in what you can do as a human being, belief in the loyalty of family, and belief in the Almighty,” the eight-division boxing champion said in his message.
“You, with your education, determination and faith. You can change the world,” the reigning World Boxing Association welterweight belt-owner said.
Monday’s event was the first of Pacquiao’s two-day speaking engagements at the United Kingdom. On Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), the fighter-turned lawmaker was also invited to deliver a message, this time, at the Cambridge Union gathering of debaters at the Cambridge University.
Pacquiao is the first Filipino athlete, or public official, for that matter, to have been invited by the two most prestigious debating societies in England.
Pacquiao was invited to speak in the two leading institutions of learning for being the only sitting Congressman and Senator to win world boxing titles in eight weight divisions beating fellow ring legends and future Hall of Famers, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, and Juan Manuel Marquez.
At Oxford, Pacquiao admitted his audience that when he received the invitation, he asked himself, “what could I talk about that could possibly interest you? What could Manny Pacquiao say that would be of any impact, much more utility, to the men and women who enjoy the highest standards of instruction at Oxford?”
The answer came fast,” he said. “I know what I should speak about, something very few among you can claim to know about: my education, certainly non-traditional, non-formal, largely unstructured. I will call it my education in the Open University of Life.”
“It is a matter of record that I only had traditional formal schooling until Secondary School, Grade 12, hePacman added. “It was only recently that I reached University level through the alternative education program. We were dirt poor. I had to work since the age of five, to help my mother feed my three siblings and me. Many days, I was lucky to have one full meal.
“On days when we had no food, I would drink lots of water just to fill my stomach,” the father of five with wife, former Sarangani Vice Governor Jinkee, recalled. But my mind and spirit were never hungry. I read anything I could get my hands on. I even read the newspaper that my lunch or dinner came wrapped in. I read signs everywhere, even on moving vehicles. I learned measurements and weights by constantly reading the rates and tariffs at the warehouses where I worked as a stevedore, a docker in your parlance.”
“At night when I could not sleep because of the cold, I would read the labels on the carton boxes that served as my bed on the street pavement. The movements of the clouds, the tint of the horizon, and the clarity of the stars taught me when morning was about to come, he continued.
“And for me, morning did come. Warm, bright, and simply amazing —— a lesson in what can be achieved if you have determination … if you ignore the odds against you …and as you are taught here at this magnificent institution never, ever quit.” he said. “Think of David and Goliath. Look at me. I am not very big and I never had five smooth stones to throw at any obstacle, but determination is a power tool. I won a lot of fights.”
Shifting to his role as a senator, Pacquiao said he participate in debates that result in the passage of legislation which determine the course of our country’s history and, indirectly, the world’s.
He swore he doesn’t fault anyone who views him as singularly ill-equipped for the role. “Instead, I ask: is there anyone more knowledgeable than this humble civil servant about the hardships incident to the way of life of the majority of our people? Who among my colleagues has faced poverty face to face from birth? Whose life’s work has it been to battle illiteracy?”
In crafting effective laws, he assured, there is no better guide than the pulse of the masses. “I may not have financial acuity. I may not be historically fluent. I may not even be socially adept. But I am philosophically rooted in my personal adversities, which morally bind me to the general struggle of our people.”
“I am a fighter, not just because it is my profession. I was a fighter long before I first set foot in a boxing ring. All my life I have fought to live. Every single day in my youth, I fought for survival. Now, I do it and get paid for it. Then, I was lucky to get a piece of bread for it.
But how are my struggles of any value to the Filipinos? It cannot feed or clothe all of them. No matter how much I give financially, hundreds of thousands more remain wanting.
Pacquiao then reminisced his experience when he visited the city 2013, in the aftermath of Category 5 super typhoon ravaged Tacloban City in 2013.
“The place was a virtual ghost town. Everyone had lost someone from their family; others, their entire family. No property was spared. There were bodies everywhere. There was no food, no water, no electricity. Each face I looked into bore the same expression: defeat.” he said
“I thought to myself, I can give millions, as have many other donors from all over the world, but no amount of money can give this people hope. I, too, fought against despair” he recalled. “But then I had an idea. We set up a makeshift basketball court and I started shooting some hoops. Then one boy picked up the ball after one of my shots and tried a shot. Soon there were enough of us to have a five on five match, and we did. “
“Those boys, who had nothing left, gave me hope,” he averred.
“These and other experiences like this motivated me to answer the call it is a glorified blow-up of what millions of Filipinos live through on a day to day basis — the hardships, the challenges, the back-breaking, hope-extinguishing despair. Yet, through the ashes of destruction, the Filipino always manages to rise up and fight another day, Pacquiao said.
“I believe that I was destined to serve as an inspiration for the average Filipino to fight, to rise above adversity, to conquer and defy, and to embrace life and all its difficulties,” he relayed. “Manny Pacquiao is the best fairy tale every Filipino could tell and re-tell to all generations yet to come. Manny Pacquiao’s story is incredible, but true,”
(Photo credit : Wendell Alinea/OSMP)
By EDDIE G. ALINEA