Manny Pacquiao's dilemma: preparing for fight in ravaged Philippines

Manny Pacquiao the boxer gets ready for a Nov. 23 bout, while Pacquiao the congressman wonders how he can help his countrymen affected by a deadly typhoon.

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Manny Pacquiao resides at the intersection of life, death, misery and showtime.

He is a professional boxer. His country, the Philippines, is a mess.

He is also a high-ranking government official, one of 289 members of the country's 16th Congress. He is a national sports hero who prides himself on also being an accountable public servant.

The common phrase that refers to an impossible situation — "being between a rock and a hard place" — was made for this. When the Typhoon Haiyan roared through the middle of the Philippines a week ago, killing thousands and turning cities and countrysides into fields of debris and desperation, Pacquiao was 466 miles away from the center of it all, the city of Tacloban.

He is still 466 miles away.

He is training for his next fight, at home in General Santos City, in the southern-most area of a country that stretches its 7,107 islands nearly 1,000 miles from north to south. According to his trainer, Freddie Roach, when the typhoon hit to the north, there were no signs of it in GenSan, as they call it.

"It was very unusual," Roach said. "It was sunny and hot. ... It didn't come in our direction at all."

So now, what is a congressman to do? What can a congressman do?

Is it even fair to ask the question, because the devastation isn't in his district; because, from all reports, it's difficult to get into the areas of devastation, and any celebrity/politician arrival might bring further logistical nightmares?

Or, is it not only fair, but necessary, to ask the question of Pacquiao? He is, after all, by far the most famous and celebrated of the current sitting congressmen. He is also likely as famous and influential to the general masses as the president himself, Benigno Aquino III, whose current position is one to which Pacquiao eventually aspires.

This is not George Bush, sitting in a grade school classroom, looking confused as he is told of planes flying into the World Trade Center. Still, for Pacquiao and those around him, it is a thorny problem. It is also an opportunity, depending on timing and how the people of the Philippines view that.

Soon after the disaster, Pacquiao made a statement from GenSan that said, "I really want to visit the area and personally do what I can to help our countrymen who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy. But I am in deep training for this crucial fight, so I regret that I cannot go."

Clearly, the boxing operatives are in charge, where the political operatives might like to be.

Bob Arum, whose Top Rank Promotions has expertly orchestrated Pacquiao's rise from unheralded, skinny little left-hander to international superstar, gets it and articulates the dilemma.

"We all have the same feeling of helplessness," Arum said Wednesday. "It happened so far away. You can't fly in there. What can you do?"

Arum said he and the Pacquiao camp have focused on something they can do, which is put on an entertaining fight on Nov. 23, when Pacquiao takes on Brandon Rios in a fancy casino in Macau. But Arum knows that sounds hollow and shallow.

"That's probably small comfort to people going without food and water," he said.

Arum's Top Rank has donated about $23,000 (1 million Philippine pesos) to the relief effort. Pacquiao has dedicated the fight to typhoon victims. Arum says that, shortly after he and Pacquiao arrive in China on Monday, they will hold meetings with casino officials to see if more can be done. Arum said that Pacquiao will then be accessible to the media, where topics certainly will be boxing, typhoons, congressional responsibility and wherever that twain shall meet.

Or should have.

Arum admits that the public relations opportunities ahead in China will be unprecedented. That's assuming those aren't perceived to be too late.

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