by: Ange Concepcion
Manny Pacquiao – highly decorated, internationally renowned boxer. Singer/songwriter. Actor. He’s also a congressman in the Philippines. While his policies might not have any affect on most of us, presuming you’re outside of his congressional district, his comments on gay marriage and the reproductive health bill in the Philippines are not exactly at all surprising considering the Philippines is well-known to have a largely devout, Catholic population. Nevertheless, his comments can be seen as a bit troublesome.
Pacquiao cites natural law, one of the more oft-referred reasons, for his stance on opposing gay marriage, ie: man and lady equals a baby (but they have to be married, or it doesn’t count), whereas man & man and woman & woman do not equal a baby created. Admitting that while, yes, he does have some gay relatives, he just “opposes acts that violate the Holy Scripture” and “we can’t help it if they’re born that way.”
It’s no secret celebrities can definitely use (and perhaps abuse) the power of their celebrity to draw attention to social issues and throw their support, usually by way of money, behind political parties and candidates. For example, Sarah Jessica Parker invited little old me to dine with her last Thursday with President Obama and some of her closest friends. You might have heard of them: Michael Kors, Aretha Franklin, Meryl Streep, just to name a few.
But in a country where scores of celebrities can put their star careers on pause to run for public office, it gets a bit sticky with the multiple hats they juggle. There’s Manny Pacquiao the boxer, Manny Pacquiao the husband, Manny Pacquiao the congressman, so on and so forth. In terms of the public personas of Pacquiao, it’s more likely for folks to immediately see “Pacquiao the boxer” when he’s in congressman-mode, but it wouldn’t cross your mind to think of him as “Congressman Pacquiao” when he’s out in the ring. He was famous for boxing before running for office, so naturally that his boxing persona tends to be in the forefront.
The man is seen as a Philippine national hero and a source of joy, much inspiration, champion against poverty, and hope for many Filipinos – I would not be surprised if just that alone was enough to get him elected. He’s not first, and certainly not the last, Filipino to use their celebrity to get elected. I can’t think of any US celebrities off the top of my head that come close to being universally acknowledged as a national hero. But hey, a hero for a congressman? Why the heck not?! Some of the work he has done include working to fight off illegal mining and logging and has used his winnings from the fight he recently lost to provide flood aid to victims he represents in the Sarangani province. Essentially, this lends to a knight in shining armor image of the national hero looking out for the best interests of the people he represents in a time where news on corrupt political officials swindling money for their own personal use in rampant, commonplace, and accepted (see former Philippine Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, both of whom have been under house arrest).
Nevertheless, Pacquiao espouses common Filipino views of reproductive health – don’t do it until you’re married)- and gays – tolerate them, not necessarily accept them, but love them despite being born that way. His remarks certainly did not create a controversy there as it did here in the US, leading to him being banned at the Grove in Los Angeles.Though this sentiment towards LGBT has for the most part “worked”, for lack of a better term, in the Philippines for nearly the last three decades due to the increased visibilityof gay celebrities, comedians, and talk show hosts, there lacks any legislation to protect LGBT people from discrimination and hatecrimes.
Many Filipinos look up to Pacquiao as their idol and share similar values he espouses – he’s a winner and a champion (most of the time). How many would question or doubt what the national hero has to say, after all he’s done to put the Philippines on the global map and help the poor? The LGBT rights group in the Philippines still supports him and respects his opinion, but cautions him on the language he uses towards the LGBT. (A side note- the rights group is also a registered political party in the Philippines, their name is loosely translated as “Coming Out”)
Can we go home and respect each other’s opinion, even if an opinion puts a ‘second-class citizen’ label on and denies rights of a marginalized population?