TACLOBAN, Philippines // Filipinos at temporary shelters in typhoon-ravaged central Philippines erupted in jubilation after boxing hero Manny Pacquiao thumped American Brandon Rios to clinch the WBO welterweight crown in Macau yesterday.
Displaced families, aid workers and soldiers jumped from their seats and broke into thunderous applause as Pacquiao, the only boxer to win world titles in eight weight divisions, comprehensively beat his younger and taller opponent.
“I am so very, very happy. Manny gave us something to cheer about in these times of despair,” said Sonia Reyes, 35, whose house was severely damaged by the surge brought by typhoon Haiyan two weeks ago.
“Manny’s victory is an inspiration for us to get back on our feet again. Like our ‘national fist’, Tacloban City will rise again,” she added, referring to Pacquiao’s local moniker.
Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm to make landfall this year, struck the central Philippines on November, killing more than 5,200 people, displacing 4.4 million and destroying an estimated 12 billion pesos (Dh1bn) worth of crops and infrastructure.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma issued a statement congratulating Pacquiao for winning another title, saying “the victory will serve as a fountain spring of strength and inspiration for the country after the typhoon devastation”.
Pacquiao, a second-term congressman and an army lieutenant-colonel in the reserve force, dominated all 12 rounds with superior hand speed and footwork, leaving Rios’ eyes swollen and bloodied.
“From the start to finish, Manny showed his champion form. For a moment, I forgot the miseries around me. Manny helped pull a painful thorn on our side,” Vicente Olang, 66, a retired village watchman, said.
Local authorities set up wide screens in three locations in Tacloban City, including one at the damaged airport for foreign and local aid workers and security forces helping clear debris and collect dead bodies.
At an open-air plaza, the size of a football field, surrounded by parked dump trucks, fork lifts and buses, a large crowd gathered to watch the fight under a hot sun. Some climbed on trees.
At one point, heavily-armed soldiers emerged from a tank, sat on top of the armoured vehicle and craned their necks to watch the bout.
At temporary shelters, there was no sign of the pain of disaster on their faces as they cheered noisily and clapped every time Pacquiao landed a blow on Rios’ head, face or body.
In capital Manila, streets were deserted during the fight as Filipinos tuned into see the action. Cinemas, bars and public parks were packed.
Police authorities have said crime rates drop every time Pacquiao enters the ring.