Pacquiao to take up fight for the poor

Boxer will run for congressional seat and the seven-weight world champion says his family have asked him to hang up his gloves.

Manny Pacquiao waves to his fans during a victory motorcade in Manila yesterday.
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The Filipino boxing phenomenon, Manny Pacquiao, returned home to the Philippines yesterday to a hero's reception and immediately hit the campaign trail, promising to transfer his efforts into helping the nation's poor. Known to his adoring faithful as "Pambansang Kamao" (National Fist), Pacquiao, accompanied by his wife, Jinkee, swapped his shorts and 12 ounce gloves for a jacket and tie as a posse of photographers and a handful of politicians greeted his arrival at Manila International Airport.

The "Pac Man" said he was pleased to be home and offered thanks to all his fans who watched him successfully defend his WBO Welterweight title against Joshua Clottey last week. "I am very happy that I have returned to the Philippines to be with my children. I thank everyone who supported and prayed for me in my last fight," Pacquiao said. Manuel Villar, the opposition senator, who is a millionaire property developer and one of the leading candidates for the presidency in the May 10 national elections, was among those who met Pacquiao at the airport.

Pacquiao, 31, is running under Villar's Nacionalista Party for a House of Representatives seat in the southern Philippine province of Sarangani. "What we need now is a man who rose from poverty, who under- stands the call of the poor like myself," Pacquiao said in an obvious reference to Villar. Villar, a son of a fish dealer who rose to become one of the country's most powerful men, has made poverty alleviation his central platform.

Pacquiao, who lifted himself out of deep poverty to become one of boxing's highest earners - his unanimous points decision over Clottey netted the seven-weight world champion an estimated US$12 million (Dh44m) - has said that helping the poor is also his main motivation in running for Congress. In keeping with his tradition, Pacquiao motored to a packed Catholic church in downtown Manila for a mass after breakfast with close friends and supporters. He then briefly crossed political fences and met Gloria Arroyo, the President of the Philippines, at the presidential palace. She presented Pacquiao with a three-layered chocolate cake topped with a replica of his WBO belt.

"It is refreshing to see Manny Pacquiao start his political career with the same energy and dedication he shows in the boxing ring," Arroyo's spokesman, Gary Olivar, said. It was not clear whether Villar was invited to the palace visit. Pacquiao hinted that with a life in politics on the horizon, he may call time on his boxing career, scuppering any hopes of a showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr to determine who is the best pound-for-pound fighter.

"It may not reach a point where I will fight Mayweather. I may announce retirement, I will talk with my family about it," said Pacquiao. He said his mother, Dionisia, has been repeatedly asking him to hang up his gloves. "She kneels down and cries every time [she asks me to quit]," he said. "That's a heavy burden when it's my mother doing that." Dionisia said the entire Pacquiao family was to hold a meeting with the champion in a bid to finally convince him to retire.

"God has given him enough. All of us will convince him to stop fighting," she said. A motorcade took Pacquiao through Manila's notoriously clogged streets, where fans lined up to catch a glimpse of their idol. * With agencies