BY LEANDRO MILAN – Manny Pacquiao, full-time professional boxer and part-time everything else (entertainer, Bible preacher, politician and basketball coach) has a number of rivals – among them Floyd Mayweather Jr. – for the distinct title “Best Pound-for-Pound Boxer.” Until the proposed mega fight with the unbeaten American boxer materializes, the Filipino boxing idol will have to settle for just being one of the best inside the ring.
But Manny doesn’t have to fret for he has just been bestowed a new title all his own, albeit it’s for something he did – or more accurately, he did not do – outside the ring. Our sporting hero, who goes by the official government designation of Honorable Emmanuel Pacquiao, Congressman of Sarangani Province, has just been crowned “Top Absentee Member of the House of Representatives in 2014.”
According to House records, the Gentleman from Sarangani showed up for work at the Lower House only four days last year. Coming in poor second is Negros Occidental Congressman Jules Ledesma (better known as the husband of actress Assunta de Rossi) who was marked “present” seven times in 2014. Unlike in regular work or school, the absentee solons did not get any pay cut or even a reprimand. There is no law or House rule that compels members to attend sessions and committee hearings, so Congress leadership is helpless in enforcing attendance.
Last December former Senator Rene Saguisag, scandalized by the congressman’s wanton disregard for House rules and proper conduct, suggested that the chamber “should consider suspending Pacquiao up to the end of his term as he treats House work as a hobby or sideline.” Saguisag, who has a reputation for being a stickler for ethical conduct, said being a congressman or senator means serious work and should not be taken lightly. He added that if Pacquiao is serious about running for the Senate in 2016 and even the presidency, then he should retire immediately and do his homework.
Tell that to the Marines, scoffs my neighborhood barber. Our politicians, he says, do not take kindly to the counsel of ordinary mortals. He cites the arrogant retort of Senator Gregorio Honasan to singer Jim Paredes, who was critical of the ex-soldier: “Mag senador ka muna!”
Congressman Manny downplays his habitual absenteeism from the House. He maintains that members of Congress do not have to attend sessions and committee hearings on a regular basis in order to discharge their duties as lawmakers. To critics and doubters, Congressman Manny presents himself as Exhibit A.
“I don’t want to boast what I have done in my district, pero kung pakitaan ng accomplishment by the term sa distrito . . . Importante kasi ‘yung tao matulungan mo, at hindi ‘yung lagi kang naka-upo doon sa Kongreso,” he told reporters last Jan. 19, the day Congress resumed session after the Christmas break, an opportune to bring up the issue of his poor attendance in the House.
He went on to share some nuggets of wisdom on good governance: “Puro batas ‘yung pina-file mo, wala namang pinakinabangan ang batas. Pero kailangan, you file the bill, ‘yung trabaho kailangan tulungan mo ang mga tao. Tapos ang term mo, tapos wala kang ginagawa sa mga tao.”
The starstruck reporters were either too timid or too courteous to remind their boxing idol that membership in Congress requires attendance in sessions and committee hearings because it is a deliberative body where national issues are discussed and policies formulated. Or maybe the reporters thought it was not the right venue to grill the congressman about lawmaking and ethics in public service. At that time they were in New York City where the congressman was promoting Manny, a documentary about him by Fil-American filmmaker Ryan Moore.
Given Congressman Manny’s education and the company he keeps, one should be more understanding of his distorted notion of our government structure and the functions and duties of officials in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. His advisers and handlers cannot be expected to instantly mold him from showman to statesman; it’s like teaching old dogs new tricks.
And lest we forget, Congressman Manny remains, first and foremost, a prizefighter. It was his brawn, not his brains, that rewarded him fame and fortune. His other preoccupation – including being congressman – is just icing on the cake. He does not need the position or title, thank you; it’s even a financial burden if you ask him.
That explains why he is unperturbed and unrepentant about his poor attendance in Congress.
“Hindi naman ako mahihiya diyan. Yes, marami akong absent because marami akong commitments at sa fights. Two fights a year, at sa training pa lang.”
Pacquiao had two fights in 2014 – against Timothy Bradley on April 12 and Chris Algieri on Nov. 22. Each of those fights required at least three months of training here and abroad.
As for his other commitments outside boxing, there’s enough distraction in his calendar to keep him away from Congress the whole year. Consider his itinerary last January: From New York, he flew to Hollywood on Jan. 22 to attend the premiere of Manny. On Jan. 22 he and wife Jinkee had dinner with Prince Harry in London. On Jan. 25 he sat as one of the five judges in the Miss Universe pageant in Florida. In between sips of champagne and poses for the paparazzi, he had numerous meetings with boxing promoter Bob Arum for updates on the proposed mega fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
He is a much-sought-after celebrity and endorser at home and abroad, enabling him to boost his image and pocketbook. The world is his stage. He did not seek the congressional post in some tiny backward province in Mindanao; it was the position that sought him. Besides, he says, he has been spending his own money to help his constituents.
“Sa akin, sa distrito ko, ‘pag election, ‘pag may kalaban ako, huwag niyo na akong iboto para hindi sumakit ang ulo ko . . . ‘Yun, mas happy ako kung hindi nila ako iboboto, ‘yung para hindi ako gagastos. Wala naman akong hinahangad na magnakaw. Hindi ako katulad na magnanakaw. May takot ako sa Panginoon.”
If Congressman Manny sounded proud and confident about his record and accomplishment in the House despite being present only four days the whole of last year, is it because he knows fully well the workings in the chamber and how his colleagues are misbehaving badly in and out of the session hall?
To his critics, he has this to say: Better absent than corrupt!