WASHINGTON DC - If politics is the art of crafting and wielding influence, Manny Pacquiao has grown to be an astute politician.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid extolled the Filipino boxing champion and later toured him on the Senate floor – a rarely-bestowed honor.
At a press briefing in the Capitol building’s Mike Mansfield Room, Reid acknowledged Pacquiao’s last-minute contribution to his re-election bid in last year’s midterm elections.
Reid was locked in a tight contest with Tea Party favorite Sharon Angle in Nevada until the final weeks of the campaign.
When asked whether he thought Pacquiao’s endorsement put him over the top, Reid replied “sure”.
“I don’t usually bother the President,” Reid added, but he insisted that he meet Pacquiao whose unique life history – born to an impoverished family, a former street peddler pushed into boxing to feed his family and rising to become the only champion to win titles in eight different boxing weight divisions – makes him an inspiration and worthy role model to the youth, American or not.
Pacquiao and his wife Jinky got the invitation that some Philippine presidents have tried but failed to get – a private, closed-door meeting with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo cut short a Middle East trip in 2009 to make an unscheduled appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC – President Obama’s first public event after his inauguration.
Philippine diplomatic officials were so surprised that Ambassador Willy Gaa had to fly back hastily from California to welcome President Arroyo in DC.
It was widely believed Mrs. Arroyo was angling for a “photo-op” with the new US president after she had similarly failed to meet with then candidate Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.
President Noynoy Aquino had planned to visit Washington DC after attending the opening of the United Nations General Assembly last year.
But Malacañang and White House aides couldn’t find a mutually agreeable time for Aquino and Obama to meet. President Aquino got all of 7 minutes talk time with President Obama at the sidelines of a US-ASEAN summit in New York.
So Manny Pacquiao, a newly-minted congressman from a largely backwoods province in Mindanao, takes a train from New York where he was promoting an upcoming fight in Las Vegas, and arrives in the US capital where he is not only feted on Capitol Hill but is also getting a chance to break bread with the leader of the free world.
“A lot of that is the enthusiasm Manny created when Sharon Angle who was running against Senator Reid elected to have at her final rally (Senator and former GOP presidential candidate) John McCain,” promoter Bob Arum told reporters.
“I don’t know what you think of John McCain but he’s no contest against Manny Pacquiao,” he remarked.
However, the political realities in Washington DC is that President Obama is poised to fight one of the defining battles leading up to the 2012 presidential elections – pushing a budget that will cut the deficit while creating jobs.
Reid has publicly opposed President Obama’s promise to end congressional earmarks – more derisively known as pork barrel – and could block his most recent initiatives to reduce or cut spending altogether for some social programs dear to Democrats.
The fact that Vice President Biden, who is the de-facto Senate President – was attending the meeting with Pacquiao – appears to suggest this afternoon’s lunch was not going to be free.
But that’s evident to everyone, perhaps even to Pacquiao.
Earlier in the morning, Pacquiao met with Philippine Consul General Domingo “Ding” Nolasco where he briefed the People’s Champ on the SAVE Act – a bill pending on Capitol Hill that would provide reciprocal tariff exemptions for US textiles and Philippine garments.
Pacquiao reportedly promised to bring that up when he gets the opportunity with President Obama.
Reid himself pointed out that Pacquiao was being honored in DC not only because he is “the greatest boxer in the world” but also because he is Filipino and a success story worthy of emulation by the world.
He reminded Americans about the rich, historic ties between the US and Philippines going back to World War II when Filipino soldiers – then part of a US Commonwealth army – “continued to fight even after we left”. Reid pointed to efforts to help surviving Filipino veterans arbitrarily disenfranchised by the US Congress 65 years ago this month.
Reid also talked about the millions of Filipino Americans, including many in his home state of Nevada, who’ve contributed to enriching American national life.
That it takes a Manny Pacquiao to remind Americans about that heritage should be a credit to him.
For a multi-dimensional fighter, Pacquiao is demonstrating a new and interesting facet of his chosen 2nd profession – Pacquiao the politician.
When asked whether he would also endorse President Obama when he comes up for re-election next year, Pacquiao replied with his trademark impish grin.
“Huwag na muna natin pag-usapan ‘yan,” he responded coyly, in the fashion of a smart politician.