By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:43:00 05/06/2009
President Manny Pacquiao stood by the window of Malacañang Palace, looking out at the garden with its big, old gnarled trees, the elegant gates, and the angry mob just outside them, shouting invectives he mercifully could not hear.
He wondered briefly why the Presidential Security Group had allowed the protesters to come so near to the Palace. Then he remembered: Buboy, his defense secretary, had just turned against him, showing up at the makeshift stage on EDSA, along with most members of his Cabinet. The soldiers who had vowed to protect his life with theirs had probably decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing their lives for a President who was on his way out, on the wrong side of history. In a way, he’d been knocked out, and he worried how he would ever stand up from the countdown that had just begun.
Involuntarily, a smile played on his lips, brightening the face that still showed signs of the battering he had suffered in the ring. He never had illusions that he was a handsome man, but his smile and his playful eyes proved irresistible to women: the smile, the eyes and the millions he had to his name, he thought bitterly.
The smile faded even before it could reach his eyes. He had always loved boxing metaphors, and it was the allusions to his storied career, and how he would use his own fists to do battle against the greedy and the corrupt, that, he still believed, had led to his election to the highest post in the land.
President Manny Pacquiao. President Pacman. The mere sound of it used to bring tears to his eyes. If only his Nanay Dionesia had lived long enough to savor the moment when he took his oath of office at the Araneta Coliseum where he had won his earliest victories. He would have loved to hold the ceremony at the MGM Grand, or at Mandalay Bay, but those spoilsports, the nationalists, raised a howl and he had to scrap the idea.
Now, when people said “President Pacman,” they did so in a sarcastic way, hinting at stories and rumors about his unexplained wealth. Unexplained wealth? They wanted to know where he got his money? They only needed to look at his face, listen to his slurred speech, to realize how he had earned his billions. But they wouldn’t know exactly how he had come so close to losing all of it…
* * *
PRESIDENT Pacquiao’s silent reverie was broken by a military aide, one of the few who had stayed behind. “Sir,” said the aide, “Ambassador Roach is here to see you.”
Manny turned just in time to note the entry of Freddie Roach, now hobbling about with a cane, though the same lopsided smile was still in evidence. Manny genuinely loved the man. Too bad he was American, and the title of “Ambassador” was a mere honorific, but the President had come to respect him, and to value his friendship. These days when most of “Team Pacquiao” had either fled to exile or joined his enemies, the President also looked forward to sharing Roach’s company, one of the few men he could talk to in all frankness.
“Things are looking bad, Manny, but I guess you’d know that by now,” Roach rasped out, and the President had to cock his ears to catch the man’s words. Having Freddie around was a comfort, but at such a time, he yearned for the advice of people like Lito, Chavit and Bing, men who had plotted his rise to power, who showed him how to use his popularity to attain victories they could not achieve for themselves. And who exploited him for their own uses, he thought with some anger.
“Don’t bother yourself with those guys,” Roach butted in, surprising Manny with his perception. He never could hide anything from the man who had turned him from a young, hungry brawler to a ring tactician. “I always told you those guys were just using you,” Roach drawled, and Manny had to agree once again.
In the beginning, of course, he thought they were genuine friends, accompanying him in all his fights, and staying around to celebrate, staging welcome tours and introducing him to the highest officials, the wealthy and well-bred, and to countless beautiful, hot babes.
* * *
AT THE THOUGHT, President Pacquiao wondered where his family was at this moment. Jinkee had long vacated the Palace, announcing that she had endured her husband’s serial infidelity for years but that his decision to throw a grand party for his 16-year-old mistress’ high school graduation—a party to which all his friends came—was a public insult and a declaration of war.
Just the other day, he had called up one of his sons in the States, and the young man, speaking in a clipped American accent he could barely make out, was curt and dismissive. “I’m an embarrassment to them,” he reflected, for by then the foreign press was making much of the corruption and violence that marked the Pacquiao regime. But how could I tell him that most of the money had gone to the pockets of my friends? the President wondered. And how could I confess that while I knew about their shenanigans, I kept quiet because they were giving me a cut of the income?
Pacman, the “best pound-for-pound fighter in the world” in his prime, abruptly stood up and marched once more to the window overlooking the Malacañang gates. He slumped against the bulletproof glass, remembering other days when crowds of loyalists waved pennants and posters, crying and screaming just to catch a glimpse of him. Suddenly, he caught sight of the angry mob outside parting to make way for a fire truck, gearing up for an assault on the Palace.
Manny turned to look back at Roach, who, seeing the look of panic on his former protégé’s face, stood up, striding across the room to put a weary arm around his shoulders.
“It’s time, Manny,” mumbled Roach. “It’s time to give an old piece of advice: Cut and cut cleanly. It’s time to throw in the towel.”