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When Manny Pacquiao fights, life in his native Philippines grinds to a halt. Crime rates drop. Insurgents stop warring with the government. Everyone tunes in to the fight.
But he isn't just a world champion boxer. He's also an elected politician. And as NPR's Nathan Rott reports, this week those two sides of Manny Pacquiao met in a way they never had before.
Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).
NATHAN ROTT: This is the norm for Manny Pacquiao: rabid fans, clicking cameras, reporters. All gather at Chelsea Piers in New York City because, well...
Unidentified Man #1: Manny packs a punch.
ROTT: Packs a punch is putting it mildly. Pound for pound, Manny "PacMan" Pacquiao is considered the best boxer in the world. But that's just his day job. Pacquiao isn't just an eight-time world-champion boxer, he's an actor, a platinum-selling musician and a politician.
Ryan Songalia, a New York based Filipino journalist, puts Pacquiao's celebrity in a cross-cultural perspective.
RYAN SONGALIA: In the Philippines, I would say Pacquiao is like Elvis meets Justin Beiber meets Michael Jordan meets Bill Clinton.
ROTT: And this press conference in New York shows that. It goes beyond the normal boxing showmanship. Pacquiao the boxer is here to hype up his next fight. One minute, he's all boxing and breaking down speed and power of his next opponent, Sugar Shane Mosely, but the next, he's on to politics.
That's the way it's been with Pacquiao these days. Ever since he was elected to the Philippines' House of Representatives, it's been a balancing act. He still puts opponents in the hospital. But now he also talks about the need for a hospital back home.
MANNY PACQUIAO: In my province, Sarangani Province, the population is more than half a million, and we don't have a hospital. Imagine that.
ROTT: It's that transition, from Pacquiao the boxer to Pacquiao the politician, that so interests people, including some of the most powerful people in the world. That's why after the press conference, he's off to Penn Station for the train ride to Washington, D.C.
On board the Pacquiao Express, promoter Bob Arum explains his fighter's dual roles.
BOB ARUM: He's a boxer for me, and his principal attraction is as a boxer.
ROTT: But that's going to change. Pacquiao's 32, not young for a boxer, and Arum is not alone in thinking that his fighter could someday become the president of the Philippines.
ARUM: He's the kind of person that a country like the Philippines could use. He really has a great desire to help his people. And believe me, they need a lot of help.
ROTT: Arum says that because he's visited the Philippines and seen the poverty. Pacquiao believes it because he's lived it. His family was so poor growing up that his dad killed the family dog to stave off starvation. He doesn't want other people to experience what he has.
PACQUIAO: My intention is to help people. Nobody can erase that.
ROTT: He's been able to do that to some extent, giving away much of the money he's won boxing: buying coffins for his town after typhoons, putting hundreds of kids through school. Arum says the Philippines have one welfare system: Manny Pacquiao. But Pacquiao says that only goes so far
PACQUIAO: If you want to get involved with these people, to really help people, especially in the Philippines, you have to enter politics to help them.
ROTT: Which brings him to Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Capitol. He's here to meet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose state of Nevada gathers a lot of revenue from the sport of boxing. But his influence allows him to meet somebody else.
HARRY REID: I try not to bother the president, but I bothered him on this occasion because I felt that the president should acknowledge this man and the enthusiasm that people here in America have for him.
ROTT: Washington, D.C., a meeting with the president, it's all new to Pacquiao the politician. So is being introduced on the Senate floor.
REID: Madame President, I'm going to take a few moments to talk about a friend of Nevada and a friend of mine. This man is from the other side of the world. His name is Manny Pacquiao.
ROTT: It's not quite the high-decibel intro he's used to...
Unidentified Man #2: Manny "PacMan" Pacquiao.
ROTT: But Pacquiao understands that to help the Philippines, he can pack more of a punch in politics than he ever did in boxing.
Nathan Rott, NPR News, Washington.
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