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TACLOBAN – The storm-battered Philippines was celebrating a much-needed victory Sunday after national boxing hero Manny Pacquiao defeated American Brandon Rios in a comeback fight he dedicated to victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
For a brief moment in the devastated city of Tacloban, those who lost their homes, their livelihoods and even loved ones in the storm forgot their misery as they watched a free, live broadcast of Pacquiao’s overwhelming points victory over Rios in Macau.
“I’m so happy that he won. This is a win for all Filipinos. It will surely uplift our spirits, especially the victims of typhoon (Haiyan),” said Mario Penaflor, 41, amid the joyful crowds in Tacloban.
Such was the elation that army chief Lieutenant General Noel Coballes said special military honors may be extended to Pacquiao, a reserve lieutenant colonel in the army, for his latest victory.
“We will see what we can give him when he arrives,” Coballes said. “He brought joy to the Filipinos especially during this time of crisis,” the general added.
The Arny spokesman, Capt. Anthony Bacus, earlier said appropriate honors were being planned for the southpaw, whose remarkable performance on the ring also brought cheer to wounded soldiers who were given a free public viewing in an army camp.
President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman, Herminio Coloma congratulated Pacquiao, saying: “Just like Manny, we will triumph over our current problems by working together… In the face of a tough fight, he has displayed the strength and the character of the Filipino.”
Super Typhoon Haiyan has left almost 7,000 dead and missing after its rampage through the central Philippines earlier this month.
The World Boxing Organization (WBO) International welterweight title clash was broadcast in four public areas in Tacloban to lift the spirits of residents who suffered the brunt of Haiyan’s fury.
Whole families, including children and the elderly, packed into Tacloban’s main sports stadium — which served as a major evacuation centre during the storm — to watch the clash.
Spirits were high despite the grim evidence of the storm’s destruction — the damp seats, the stadium’s ruined ceiling — that, more than two weeks on, still surrounded them.
The crowd proudly sang their national anthem as it was played in Macau, then cheered their hero on wildly through the fight.
The celebration began in the last round as Pacquiao’s victory became obvious, with the stadium filling with jubilant cheers and laughter.
Battered nation needed a Pacquiao victory
Rainier Panquinco, 29, who lost his home in the storm, said: “It’s a super good day. For awhile, I forgot my suffering.”
He had prayed hard for Pacquiao and did not line up for relief goods Sunday just so he could watch the fight.
“It will give us hope here in Tacloban, and in Leyte and Samar,” he said, referring to the two islands that suffered the worst of the typhoon.
Even those who could not watch the fight seemed to feel uplifted.
In Palo town, outside of Tacloban, many people could not even listen to the clash on the radio due to the lack of electricity. Resident Neil Lagumbay, 38, said he heard about the fight’s results from a neighbour.
“Of course, I’m very happy that Manny won although I expected a knock out,” he told AFP.
“It will boost the morale of the people here.”
Haiyan was just the latest in a series of calamities to hit the Philippines this year. In October, a 7.1-magnitude quake left over 200 dead and tens of thousands displaced, while a bloody, three-week long siege in a southern city by Muslim rebels in September left at least 244 dead with over 100,000 homeless.
Pacquiao, 34, a former champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, had sought to redeem himself against Rios in Macau after losing his last two fights.
The boxer, who has parlayed his sports fame into election to Congress and a fortune in commercial endorsements, had previously vowed not to let his countrymen down.
“This is not about my comeback,” he said in the ring immediately after the verdict Sunday.
“This is about my people’s comeback from a natural disaster and a natural tragedy.”