Contingencies of solidarity

Many people who watched the so-called “fight of the century” cheered for Manny Pacquiao not necessarily because they believe he is the superior boxer, but because they think he is an immensely better human being than the egocentric wife-beater Floyd Mayweather. In their minds, if there is justice in the world, he should have won.

Many Filipinos prayed for Mary Jane Veloso to be spared from execution not necessarily because they believe her to be innocent, but because, as a young mother who left her family to find work abroad, she personifies the tragic figure of the Filipino migrant worker who falls victim to countless traps in foreign lands. If there is justice in the world, they think she should be pardoned and sent home to her children.

These interesting coincidences illustrate what moral philosophers call the contingencies of solidarity. The concept simply means that most of the choices we make in life are heavily shaped by our unexamined allegiances, habits and preferences. They are not always the outcome of logical reasoning.

I am not much of a boxing fan. But last Sunday I invited myself to my brother’s home where a pay-per-view telecast of the Mayweather-Pacquiao match was available. Throughout the fight, I noticed that my heart was beating faster than usual. I genuinely feared for Manny. My thoughts kept drifting to that stunning moment a few years ago when a single blow from his Mexican opponent Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out cold. Face down, Manny’s body did not move for a long while. Dazed, he struggled to get up, not knowing exactly what happened. I thought he would hang up his gloves after that and concentrate on his political duties.

Against all odds, he came back, and won three more fights, all of them stretching out to 12 rounds. But in those fights he seemed more careful not to expose himself to counterpunches. One could detect a tentativeness in his movement that wasn’t there in his more memorable fights. It was that single memory of this great fighter’s existential vulnerability that kept me on the edge of my seat last Sunday. I am sure this same image stuck to Manny’s mind, too, as he chased his wily opponent around the ring.

Like everyone else in the room, I was hoping for one powerful blow from our champion that would send the cocky Mayweather down to the canvas. I thought it was the only way he could win this fight. I began to imagine what Manny’s victory would mean to our people and to the rest of the world. It would lift our collective spirits as a nation. It would reinforce the notion that this fight was indeed a battle between good and evil. It would realign the rules of boxing to the moral codes we hold. A knockout by Pacquiao would tell us in no uncertain terms that there is justice in the world.

As I contemplated this heartwarming vision of a triumphant Manny Pacquiao fighting on the side of the good, I forgot how much money he was going to earn from this one-hour boxing match—at least P4.5 billion. Even if he gives away half this amount to his constituency in the province of Sarangani, he would not have to work for the rest of his life. Even if he pays one-third of his earnings from this fight to the Bureau of Internal Revenue, he would still have more than enough left to buy all the mansions he fancies in Hollywood and all the fast cars he likes to drive when he is in America.

At that moment, I forgot that the lone district of Sarangani he represents in Congress, and where his wife Jinkee is also vice governor, remains a poor province. I am sure this state of affairs predates Manny’s 2010 entry into Sarangani politics. But now I wonder how much time and effort he has given to his constituency throughout the five years he has been congressman. It’s probably insignificant, considering how much time he spends training for his boxing matches.

By coincidence, I was watching the other day a replay of an “I-Witness” documentary that my daughter Kara did three years ago of an impoverished family in Barangay Upper Suyan in Malapatan, Sarangani. There were four children in that family, all of them suffering from kwashiorkor, a severe type of malnutrition resulting from lack of protein. It became obvious even to her untrained eye what the cause of the problem was—an unchanging daily diet of boiled cassava and camote. Particularly bad was the condition of the youngest, Manny, named after the boxing icon. He had bulgy cheeks and a bloated stomach. The father of the children, Tusan, an upland farmer, was aware of this. Whenever he came upon some extra cash, he said, he supplemented his family’s diet with rice and canned mackerel. But this came only once a year.

Once a year, Tusan would help in the harvesting of abaca in a nearby farm. From his small share of the crop, he produces by hand golden strands of the sturdy fiber—the kind that goes into the printing of money. Kara follows him and his son through seven hours of trekking over slippery mountain slopes and river crossings as they carry their product to the nearest store. On this special day, Tusan is paid P1,000 for 25 kilos of the fine fiber. The store owner deducts P600 from the proceeds as payment for his debts, and the rest of the money is used to pay for a few kilos of precious rice and a few cans of fish.

Congressman Manny Pacquiao earns $100 million for one boxing match, while one of his constituents waits one year to earn P1,000 to buy his children a week’s supply of rice and canned food. Where is the justice there?

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