I couldn’t survive a round with Manny Pacquiao, not for a second. He is a force of nature in the ring, one of the fastest, smartest strategists in boxing, able to change tactics and game plans as a bout progresses. That and his ability to strike opponents with fists coming from practically every direction make him one of the most fearsome fighters in the business. Just ask Floyd Mayweather Jr. who won’t commit to a match with him.
But there is a way to beat Pacquiao.
It’s a “rope-a-dope” strategy: just give Manny enough rope outside the ring and he’ll prove he’s a dope. Americans got a dose of the harm Pacquiao can inflict on himself after he was quoted in a story on a conservative website declaring that supporting gay marriage—as Barack Obama did last week—would be tantamount to reviving Sodom and Gomorrah. Pacquiao is directly quoted as saying: “God only expects man and woman to be together and to be legally married, only if they so are in love with each other”; and “It should not be of the same sex so as to adulterate the altar of matrimony, like in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah of Old.” The story, by Conservative Examiner writer Granville Ampong, is rather awkwardly written and goes on to cite Leviticus 20:13, the death sentence on homosexuals: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
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On Wednesday, Ampong clarified his story. He wrote that Pacquiao never quoted, invoked, or referred to Leviticus 20:13 in their discussion. In a statement on his website, Pacquiao wrote: “I didn’t say that, that’s a lie… I didn’t know that quote from Leviticus because I haven’t read the Book of Leviticus yet.” In this statement, Pacquiao does not seem to deny the direct quotes attributed to him, such as the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. Pacquiao also said: “I’m not against gay people. I have a relative who is also gay. We can’t help it if they were born that way. What I’m critical off [sic] are actions that violate the word of God. I only gave out my opinion that same sex marriage is against the law of God.”
The quotes shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows Pacquiao. He is a Roman Catholic who expresses his piety by kneeling in prayer and crossing himself before and after each fight. It is a factor that contributes to his popularity in his native Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic and where he is a congressman with presidential ambitions. Indeed, Ampong’s story appears to indicate that his interview with the boxer took place after a one-hour Bible study session at Pacquiao’s residence in Los Angeles, California.
In the Philippines, Pacquiao’s global pugilistic prestige and achievements have made his antics and misstatements cute, not controversial; people are used to winking at his infidelities and inconsistencies—after all he grew up poor and uneducated. Filipinos are happy to cut him some slack.
But, in this instance, Pacquiao has allowed himself to wade into one of the hottest American political and cultural controversies. Pacquiao’s assertion that he has never read Leviticus is a good defensive move—if a little embarrassing for an ardent student of the bible. Leviticus also prescribes death for men and women caught in heterosexual adultery. Manila’s gossip pages—and the often icy stares of Mrs. Pacquiao—can attest to Manny not being qualified to cast the first stone.
There is no fast way for Pacquiao to punch his way out of this controversy. In the U.S., the blowback may be both political and financial. Vocal communities may get sponsors to stop sponsoring. That would be a pretty dumb outcome for one of the smartest fighters in the business. He should also have been aware that his quotes would be used in a partisan manner in the American political arena. The Conservative Examiner has encased them in a story that is crudely framed to be wielded against Barack Obama. Indeed, it begins by saying how Obama shouldn’t expect Pacquiao to endorse him the way the boxer backed Democratic U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who won a squeaker of an election last November that some credit to a huge turnout of Filipino-American voters.
There is one more disservice that the fawning Examiner story pays Pacquiao: it makes the wanna-be president appear politically naive. It paraphrases him as saying “America should be the model of morality for other countries to emulate.” It is clearly an attempt to align Pacquiao against Obama. But any self-aware Filipino politician would cringe at the underlying suggestion: that Filipinos should take directions from the Philippines’ former colonial master. William Howard Taft, the first American Governor-General of the islands, once called Filipinos “our little brown brothers” and predicted that they would only need 150 years or so of schooling by the U.S. to become fully civilized. Taft would eventually become the great white father, er… President of the United States.
But politics in general isn’t proving to be Pacquiao’s strength, even in the Philippines, where he is a veritable divinity. He’s getting too entangled in the shennanigans of a much-despised privileged class which has misbehaved with impunity for much of Philippine history. In his homeland, Pacquiao’s current controversy isn’t gay marriage—it’s money. He spends a lot. His family—and his cronies—live lavishly. And he somehow hasn’t provided the country’s Bureau of Internal Revenue with documents detailing his earnings for 2010. He claims he is being harassed even though national tax officials seem to be giving him an awful lot of time to turn in the said documents. (In contrast, the local tax agency in his native island Mindanao has reportedly filed a complaint against him that can carry a penalty of two years in jail).
And that’s how his religiosity is generating criticism—through the shadow of hypocrisy. As one Filipino online commenter mockingly warned others who chided the boxer for not responding to the country’s tax authority: “Aren’t you all afraid? Don’t you know that [Pacquiao] has his own God? He might file a complaint against you with Him.”