Friday, April 20, 2007

Basis of Unity

“Even for an hour, a moment, a day…we were one. Thanks Manny!” This captured the national sentiment last Sunday when Manny Pacquiao knocked out Solis. Everywhere, streets seemed less busy with fewer cars and pedestrians trying to get somewhere. People indeed had stayed put either in theatres or restaurants with cable TV connections or simply at home, watching the Pacquiao-Solis boxing match. Technology’s power to unite a nation was a given. Technology needed an object to ensure people’s subscription and allegiance. These days when televised political ads invade and assault our peace and deeper sensibilities, many prefer something seemingly less political, perhaps more “cultural” like boxing to spice up our increasingly jaded lives.

Since the meteoric rise of Manny Pacquiao, boxing seems to play the impossible role of uniting an endemically disunited people. But what kind, how deep and enduring a unity?

Boxing has its highs and lows in Philippine athletic culture. Boxing greats like Flash Ilorde and Onyok have fired the imagination of generations of hopeful boxers aiming at both fame and gold. If only both values could last a boxer’s lifetime. If only all boxers can be a Flash Ilorde, an Onyok and a Manny Pacquiao. But some are less fortunate. They rise to stardom and wealth and plummet down into oblivion in no time. A number go down faster and even suffer tragic ends. A few weeks before Manny Pacquiao’s most recent victory, fellow boxer Angelito Sisnorio dies shortly after a mismatched bout in Thailand. For a few days, we somehow mourned Sisnorio’s death. Yet, Sisnorio came home dead, unlike Manny who has been coming home with the glory of fame and gold. One came home bathed in gore while the other, in glory. Gore or glory seems to capture the essence of boxing culture. But behind both gore and glory lurks the shadow of something playing a crucial role in either outcomes. We might as well speak of the gore and glory of business and politics.

Boxing is business, even potentially big business that brings in mega-dollars not only to the victorious boxer but to his promoters both here and abroad. The aim of every aspiring boxer is the international arena where fame and gold are multiplied by a foreign audience and their corresponding currency. Manny has been winning and earning in US dollars. His promoters are also earning in US dollars. With each successful bout, they go home richer. With each newly acquired wealth comes the prospect of more future fights.
Now that this victory is in place, Manny can concentrate on his other fight, this time in a rather different ring, politics. He will soon face off with a woman not with gloves but with a different kind of armory. Manny vs. Darlene, Pacquiao vs. Custodio.

What has on the outside seemed such a uniting force will in no time transmogrify into its opposite. Boxing victory, though this may translate to political victory, does not necessarily translate to political unity. The boxing ring is like a cockpit. The hysteria of a crowd in a cockpit is ideally confined to the cockpit and should not spill over to the rest of life. After a cockfight, you either have happy winners or unhappy losers walking out of the cockpit. They leave the cockpit behind and carry home either their dead or wounded roosters. They leave behind the gory gambling world of cockfighting and immediately face life. Unfortunately, a good number are unable to dissociate the two worlds, of the cockpit, the boxing ring and the real world. Why? The reasons may seem difficult to plumb but perhaps a shallower view is all that is needed. Cockfighting and boxing are both sport and business. Often enough the fine line between sport and business melts away. While there is a difference between business, politics, sports and life, the greater seems easily overtaken by the lesser. Likewise, the lesser and clearly the lower seem to arrogantly impose itself as the basis of unity.

Sport operates at a level that is higher and even spiritual. Sport can both embrace and transcend life. However, it becomes rather ludicrous and contrived to speak in the same way about either business or politics (in the Philippine context).

Perhaps here lies the problem. When people keep referring to Pacquiao’s victory as unitive, aren’t they surrendering their souls to what precisely has cheapened and corrupted what is truly spiritual and transcendent?

Ironically, while we have all but mourned or remembered Angelito Sisnorio’s defeat and untimely death, it nonetheless speaks and says more than the media and the political glitz surrounding Manny Pacquiao’s latest victory.

The former, in spite and because of its blackness inspires deep reflection and humble prayer. The latter, in all its forced and cheap luminescence has begun spreading such highly contagious disgust.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
April 20, 2007


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