Monday, November 25, 2013

The Philippines on two wheels - part fourteen

Manila International's departure lounge information signs don't work. My problems at Philippines airports aren't new. Lineups of memorable confusion and mad stampedes to board. A previous departure marred when a well loved, compact travel umbrella was confiscated as a potential threat (not even the security-obsessed Americans or Israelis worry about umbrellas). I swore I would never come back, but, of course, did. Today, the check was casual. Just as well as I'd inadvertently left a small pocket knife in my kitbag. Anyway, lacking a departure board to obsessively check every three minutes, I've hustled to the boarding gate to be safe. Time enough for writing a final post. 

I leave as the Philippines celebrates. The country's favourite athlete has again triumphed, lifting national morale. Everyone from the airline agent who checked me in to the immigration officer stamping my passport wanted to talk about Manny Pacquiao. The ‘security guards’ scanning luggage doubtless preferred to mentally replay the big fight rather than scrutinize monitors for dangerous umbrellas.

With few Filipino achievements in international sports, in an impoverished archipelago beset by natural and man made disasters, Manny shores up a fragile national ego. His success allows Filipinos, too, to boast of success. 

Gord and I found a Manila bar from which I'd be able to occasionally escape to monitor reaction outside.

Streets - normally worse than turbo charged bumper cars - were deserted.

Those unable to 'pay for view' craned to see or, at least, hear the broadcast. 

Manny grew up poor. Dad abandoned the family and mum washed clothes for a living. From an all too typical background, Manny is a Philippines 'everyman' not only idolized, but loved. Success in a brutal sport has made him rich, not arrogant. And he knew that Filipinos needed good news after two months - just two months - in which there was a bloody battle between army and rebels with two hundred dead; investigation of a political corruption scandal involving $250 million; the earthquake and then super typhoon.

Despite a stellar career, Manny's last two fights were defeats. Filipinos were anxious. They need not have been. 

It wasn’t an epic clash. Manny took control from the opening bell and pummeled his American opponent for twelve rounds. At the bar, confidence grew.

Outside, as unofficial scoring gave round after round to Manny, spectators pooh-poohed their former worries and prepared to whoop it up.

'Tacloban!' they screamed, ‘For Tacloban!’ But this is not just a moment’s respite from a litany of woe, from a city obliterated, towns no more and vanished villages. Not just a brief diversion from unburied corpses, political and bureaucratic ineptitude, homelessness, hunger, fear, grief. Manny allows Filipinos a sense of national self-respect. He gives them hope. Today they celebrate and I celebrate with them.


It’s been awhile since I was in a plane in which I could watch the takeoff from a passenger seat. I thought this had been phased out because the pictures made some people nervous. It appears I was wrong. Good bye, Philippines.