Column: Pacman’s English

Published July 1, 2008

Was I serious, some readers wanted to know, about last week’s suggestion to convert Ang Kapatiran into a “parish-based political party”?

Dead earnest, I always joke in reply. I happen to think such a vital political party would be a boon—on condition that the vitality is real.

By parish-based, of course, I do not mean Catholic Church-organized. I mean organized by Catholic laity at the parish level, exactly like Couples for Christ (either faction). If the parish priest will allow the party to host assemblies or even conduct a formation program in the convent, it would be a distinct logistical and psychological advantage for the party. (Its members, by the way, call it AngKap. Appropriate, isn’t it?) Allowing politically engaged parishioners to attend, say, a forum in the parish office on the political spectrum or a discussion featuring political analysts is another, less dramatic form of help the parish church can provide. But even without the active involvement of the clergy, nothing prevents parishioners from mobilizing politically, using the parish as the unit of organization. If massage parlors—excuse me, I mean “spas”—can deploy attendants outside churches to distribute promotional leaflets, I don’t see why the party can’t use Sunday Masses to recruit politically engaged parishioners.

I myself cannot join the party, in part because my obligations as a journalist prevent me from making partisan commitments, and in part because my own views on population will probably not match those of Ang Kapatiran. But I do realize that an opportunity is waiting to be seized. Political parties in the Philippines are essentially coalitions of convenience, bound less by principle or even agenda but by cash and patronage. (Even those who are out of power depend on the largesse of financiers with political interests.) The possibility that a party like AngKap can break the traditional mold, precisely through its parish base, is rousing.

* * *

On to my secular religion: journalism. The University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication will award this year’s Gawad Plaridel to lawyer and editor Pachico Seares of Cebu. At the rites on July 4, Seares will deliver the Plaridel Lecture. I fully intend to attend, in my new (dis)guise as a part-time journalism instructor.

* * *

The on-air commentator of HBO’s pay-per-view telecast of the Pacquiao-Diaz fight noted, ominously, and just as the bout was about to start, that Manny Pacquiao’s last two fights had raised questions about the “deterioration” of his skills.

As far as I can tell, that view is shared widely in the Philippines. The main justification, it is often said, is Pacquiao’s failure to knock out his last two opponents.

The boxing icon’s demolition of the brave David Diaz has now found its place in this narrative of unfair expectations. Pacquiao is back in great form, people now say, unlike last March, when he fought Juan Manuel Marquez to a split decision, and unlike last October, when he battled Marco Antonio Barrera to a unanimous decision.

But the reason Marquez and Barrera are future Boxing Hall-of-Famers (and Diaz likely won’t be) is precisely because they can impose their game plan on even the likes of Pacquiao. They have a history of frustrating their opponent’s best-laid plans, not least by refusing to mix it up with brawlers and sluggers. They are, eminently, boxers. Another Hall of Fame-bound Mexican boxer, Eric Morales, lost badly to Pacquiao in their last two fights because (like Pacquiao) he likes to give the crowd what they want, even at the risk of losing the fight.

I do share the view of many that Pacquiao should have KO’d Oscar Larios in their Araneta Coliseum match in July 2006. His lack of training, the evident distraction that marked his preparation, robbed him of the power and focus he needed to put Larios away. Though a gallant fighter, Larios is at best only a journeyman. Pacquiao’s failure to knock him out was the one time I worried whether it was possible to be both a billionaire boxer, with political connections and show business commitments, and a boxing great.

I join in the nationwide celebration over Pacquiao’s masterful victory over Diaz—especially the consistent use of his right jab (a consistency last seen in the second fight against Morales), and his “kaingin” style of fighting (in and out, in and out, like a farmer clearing the brush and then moving on). But the victory also makes me realize how frustrating it must have been for Pacquiao to fight a better-prepared Barrera and a determined Marquez; unlike Diaz, those damn future Hall-of-Famers had other plans.

* * *

This may be a good time to write about Pacquiao’s English.

He is often ridiculed for his use of the language, mainly because of his rigid pronunciation. A teaser for the ANC television channel’s “Korina Today” show, which ran for the longest time, included a smiling Korina Sanchez saying, “Palakpakan naman natin ang English ni Manny” [“Let’s applaud Manny’s English”], to Pacquiao’s own evident amusement. I do not know exactly what Sanchez meant, but I would not be surprised if other Filipinos (the educated, middle-class kind) found it an act of natural condescension—and shared in it.

Having covered his training camp once and followed his career assiduously, I must say that, in fact, I find Pacquiao’s English both much improved and good from the start. He has never lacked for sense (even if that sense includes unusual tolerance for ingratiating politicians). His interview with HBO immediately after the Diaz fight, for example, hit the sweet spot: gracious answers, but right to the point. Only those who value pronunciation over meaning and the occasional grammatical infelicity would have found it grating.

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