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Pursuing Pacquiao

Now that he has earned his boxing laurels and made his millions, the Philippine sports hero says there are other ways to be "the people’s champ".

I thought I understood what moving like "a bat of out hell" meant but I realised I was wrong one late summer afternoon as we sped like maniacs up and down a dangerously dark and winding road on the southern Philippine coast trying to keep up with a convoy going at almost 200km per hour with a black Humvee at its centre.

In our clunky little rented Mitsubishi, all the Al Jazeera crew held on to the handles closest to us for dear life as we were rattled and rolled in ways we barely thought possible.Seatbelts notwithstanding.

We were on the political campaign trail with world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao - and it was nothing like we had expected.

An early start (sort of)

“Make sure you are there by 9 a.m.…” our producer repeated. “His schedule is packed and they can’t even tell us if he can he can sit for an interview straightaway…”

Sports hero Manny Pacquiao had taken on another challenge - running for a seat in congress after already having lost in elections once before.

Not wanting to keep him waiting, we showed up with minutes to spare.

“He’s still asleep…,” his sleek American media manager told us.  Oh.

“You can wait if you want… but he’s only just gone to bed… a late night playing billiards… it’s how he unwinds…,” we were told matter-of-factly.

“But he still has plans of campaigning today, right?,” I asked, hopefully.

“Of course!,” the manager said seeming half-offended by the question.

“He campaigns every day!”

That as it was, we decided to make the most of our newly discovered wait-time by trekking over to his political adversary’s home to interview the man who was up against the legend.

That interview in the can, we filmed a few more elements for the story, then headed back to Pacquiao’s residence.

By this time it was noon.  The manager had left for a meeting, and Pacquiao was still asleep.

So we sat parked in front of his house in the heat of the midday sun.

An hour later, the manager’s back.

“Remember us?” I inquired.

“Oh yeah … let me check if he’s up and I’ll get right back to you …,” he replied.

Half an hour later, we were still outside.

It was our last day in Gen. Santos City before having to fly back to Manila, and we worried we would have to do so without filming Pacquiao.

We rang for the manager again: “Ah yes … he’s still asleep…but come in and set up if you like…that way, when he comes down and sees you, he may just speak to you right away…”

Great, thought our cameraman gleefully - at least he would get to set up and light the interview properly.

We were led to the back of his large compound and entered his stately home through the pool area. Already there were several people there waiting for Pacman.

Set-up complete, there was nothing left to do - but wait some more. And wait. And wait.

For several more hours.

Finally, at around 4:30pm - a flurry of people descended into the air-conditioned lounge and behind them walked a silent and weary-looking Pacquiao.

We rose to greet him, but he huddled with his people before turning around to meet us. Five minutes later, and the interview was done.

He was gracious and shy, and clearly in a hurry.

There were campaign sorties to rush too, and he was running a little late.

Hence, the speeding like bats out of hell.

Sometimes when we touch

The sun had well and truly set by the time the convoy stopped at the first village.

Hundreds had gathered to see the "People’s Champ" in the flesh.

A national power crisis meant the area was shrouded in darkness except for a small stage in the middle of a small field that was lit by the grinding of a small generator.

Pacquiao was rushed through the crowd by his handlers and ascended the platform to greet the crowd.

Five minutes later, and it was over.

He was rushed back through the throng and into the Humvee.

Bats out of hell again to the next place. And the next.

He stayed much longer at the last site. By this time, it was past nine in the evening. And the power was still off.

The moon was nearly full though and a bright silver glow covered the town.

In the centre of an outdoor basketball court, the man everyone had been waiting to see stood in the golden ray of a generator-run spotlight and made his promises.

He had come from nothing and look where he was now.

He would help them battle poverty, and give them better opportunities.

He spoke their dialect, and was one of their own. They cheered.

And then they asked him to do what every Filipino knows their hero loves to do when not in the boxing ring - sing. He happily obliged … performing the 1970s ballad “Sometimes When We Touch”.

The crowd cheered again.

This was no different to any other political rally across the Philippines, where speeches are kept short and votes are wooed through entertainment.

One encore later, and it was over.

Back in the vehicles, and back to being bats out of hell.

The end is near?

Win or lose in these elections, Pacquiao told us his boxing days are numbered.

The self-confessed momma’s boy shared that his mother had asked him one too many times already to give up his sport ...

Now that he's earned his laurels, made his millions, and been credited with giving a battered nation something to be proud of, Manny Pacquiao said it’s time to maybe grant his mother's request.

There would be other ways, he said, to still be "The People’s Champ".

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