GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines —They partied all night, then sealed the deal at 1 a.m.
World boxing icon Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao formally joined the ranks of the opposition under the Nacionalista Party, taking his oath early Friday before Sen. Manny Villar, the NP candidate in the 2010 presidential race.
Pacquiao made it official in a simple ceremony held at the champ’s mansion in Lagao village here, a few hours following his lavish birthday bash at the KCC Convention Center where about 2,000 guests came to greet the 31-year-old multimillionaire athlete.
Witnessing the rite of alliance between the two Mannys was NP senatorial candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
The son and namesake of the late dictator was one of the VIPs who graced the P5-million blowout and later proceeded to the mansion for what was perhaps the biggest political after-party of the year.
Pacquiao also brought into the NP camp local candidates running under his party, the People’s Champ Movement (PCM), who also took their oaths as Nacionalistas on Friday.
The pound-for-pound king is running for congressman of Sarangani province, his second jab at a House seat. In 2007, he lost to the incumbent Darlene Antonino-Custodio in the congressional contest in South Cotabato.
Pacquiao said he decided to support Villar despite offers from other parties because they shared humble beginnings. Among the presidential candidates, he said, only Villar came from a poor family.
“He’s the only one who can understand the conditions of our poor countrymen,” Pacquiao said in Filipino.
Villar said: “I’m happy because we got a member we can proudly present to the whole country and who can pursue the goals and initiatives of the Nacionalista.”
The senator said he personally made an effort to check on Pacquiao’s background and “that’s when I immediately felt that we can be good friends.”
The billionaire lawmaker was last reported to be wooing Pacquiao last month, shortly after the Pacman wrested the welterweight crown from Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas to become the only boxer in history to rule seven weight divisions.
Days before the fight, Villar had begun pursuing Pacquiao, paying the fighter a visit while on training in Baguio City.
Palace airs regret
Malacañang on Friday expressed regret over Pacquiao’s decision to leave the administration.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar noted the strong ties that, he said, had developed between Pacquiao and President Macapagal-Arroyo, recalling how she feted the ring hero each time he returned home victorious.
“I would not be surprised if (Ms Arroyo) would have preferred him to be running with the administration party than with another one,” Olivar said.
“They were close in the past,” Olivar said. “She provided him with all the support that she could. He’s been awarded with several awards in recognition of his achievements.”
Pacquiao was among the popular figures who rallied behind Ms Arroyo amid mounting calls for her resignation over the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal in 2005.
“I don’t think he did anything untoward,” the Palace official said. “This is the political season and, of course, the different standard-bearers are going to be out there looking (for) the strongest lineups that they can (muster).”
At the Pacman’s birthday party, the VIP guests included Villar, Marcos, Finance Secretary Gary Teves, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Environment Secretary Lito Atienza, Deputy National Security Adviser Luis “Chavit” Singson, actors Philip Salvador, Cesar Montano, Bayani Agbayani and Joko Diaz; Olympic boxing silver medalist Onyok Velasco, and Brazilian model Diana Meneses, among others.
They came in suits, gowns and barong, and dined on candle-lit tables in a hall draped with large, tarpaulin portraits of Pacquiao and his family, including his recent Time Magazine cover photo.
Car raffled off
The menu included 30 roasted pigs, sashimi, and mostly Filipino dishes and pastries prepared by five of the city’s top restaurants.
Laptops, cell phones, a motorcycle and a Toyota Vios were also raffled off.
The evening’s entertainers included violinist Jay Cayuca, singer-composer Lito Camo, and “Britain’s Got Talent” semi-finalist Madonna Decena.
Pacquiao’s American trainer Freddie Roach, promoter Bob Arum, and past ring opponents Cotto and Ricky Hatton were invited but did not make it to the affair, the Inquirer learned.
Arum was finalizing the fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., Roach was busy training another boxer, while Cotto and Hatton had problems with their bookings, according to an insider.
“I thank you for coming and I thank God because He is the one who gave me all my blessings and my skills for my achievements,” Pacquiao told the crowd.
Like his past birthday and victory parties, the program doubled as a Pacman “mini-concert” which lasted about four hours, complete with three wardrobe changes to go with his 15-song repertoire.
Pacquiao’s rock star getups for the night were created by Davao-based fashion designer Emi-Alexander Englis.
The champ’s wife Jinkee, who wore a turquoise, Grecian-inspired creation by Jun Escario and glittering stilettos by Christian Louboutin, delivered a surprise song number: The Carpenter’s “You.”
The Pacman’s mother, Aling Dionisia, who came in a two-piece pink gown, initially declined requests for her to hit the dance floor, citing her sore feet. But she eventually tangoed and chacha-ed after her son joined the clamor.
But she said her most fervent wish that night was for her son to finally quit boxing.
Pacquiao’s four young children also performed a dance number for their dad.
Earlier in the day, Pacquiao’s aides distributed food packs to street children and indigent residents of the city.