We have, in the past several months, closely followed “Fighter of the Decade” Manny Pacquiao not so much in terms of his career as a fighter but rather as a human being and have seen a perceptible transformation in him, all for the better.
We have watched him give testimony on his own life and its wild and woolly past and listened intently to his words about the new path he has embraced within the dimensions of his religiosity.
Manny Pacquiao was always essentially a good man. He cared for his family, looked after friends even though many of them exploited his kindness and his forgiving ways, he always felt a special sense of giving to the poor and in carrying the torch to right the wrongs of society such as the exploitation of women in human trafficking and in the abuse of children.
Perhaps his own difficult childhood had an impact on his various crusades because he had undergone precisely some of the things he wished to correct.
On the 11th anniversary of the Church of “The River of God” at the Crowne Plaza Hotel along Ortigas Avenue we joined in the celebration of praise and worship along with over a thousand others including ABS-CBN’s Dyan Castillejo and her extremely likeable husband Anton Garcia and of course Manny Pacquiao, his charming wife Jinkee and their four children who even performed songs of praise to the delight of the crowd and the deep down pride of Manny and Jinkee.
Pacquiao spoke and we marveled at the transformation of a world boxing champion and a hero to millions, into an evangelist or what we like to call—“A Preacher Man.”
It was a stunning change. He quoted the Bible, chapter and verse without a flaw, in an effort to send home a telling message that even we ourselves grasped and felt so much better for it.
We stood for hours as the congregation, with unbridled enthusiasm and smiles on their faces, joyously sang songs of worship and praise with Manny and Jinkee participating with remarkable fervor. It was indeed a sight to behold and one that invariably had to touch your heart if not make you think and ultimately believe.
After a long line of people who stood in orderly fashion to have a picture taken with Manny and Jinkee, Dyan and I had an opportunity to interview Pacquiao about his sprained ankle which he suffered while playing three successive games of basketball.
But the first thing that struck us, personally, was the glow on Pacquiao’s face. It was that of someone at complete peace with himself and the world and an individual who had genuinely found what his life was essentially missing in years past. That glow was also reflected on the face of Jinkee and their lovely kids—two growing, good-looking boys and two cue little girls.
The next afternoon, Pacquiao shook off the hobbling sprain and worked out at his MP Tower Gym which was constructed on the old, rundown L&M Gym where Manny had trained during the early years of his career and even when he moved up to the status of a world champion.
He smiled as he did the punch-mitts with a stand-in who had trouble figuring out what to do in the absence of Buboy Fernandez and Nonoy Neri, and went through his usual routine and in-between quoted the scriptures as he is won’t to do now.
Then came the biggest and most touching surprise of all. He autographed a Holy Bible so kindly bought as a gift for us by Dyan with an inscription —“Man shall not live by bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Then he added a request —“Please read the Bible everyday.” It would be impossible if not heartless to ignore a request that was so genuinely given and so we do as asked and follow the “Preacher Man.”
There are those who are concerned that Pacquiao’s new-found religiosity, his congressional duties and the demands he places on himself in his advocacies and his concern for the poor may dampen the fire for boxing. But he assures us, he is excited to get back into the ring and plans to regain his status as an elite fighter when he faces Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios in Macau on November 24.
No matter what the outcome of his return to the ring, one thing is unmistakably clear, we have been witness to the transformation of Manny Pacquiao —first as a skinny kid on the weekly boxing show which we produced along with the late Rod Nazario and Moy Lainez and of course Lito Mondejar and his ascent to become an eight-division world champion “Fighter of the Dacade—and now an evangelist.
We love what we see and thank God for His goodness. Indeed, as it is written in Psalm 16 “I pondered the direction of my life and I turned to follow your laws.” This is the essence of the transformation of our hero—Manny Pacquiao whom we fondly call “The Preacher Man.”