COMMENTARY | Manny Pacquiao's greatest victory may have come far away from the ring lights and electric atmosphere of a main stage, world class Las Vegas prizefight.
On February 13 of this year, Philippines's President Benigno Aquino III signed a strong, sweeping anti-human trafficking bill that the fighting congressman from the Sarangani district had been championing for two years.
The iconic fighter from the Philippines has been a world champion in eight divisions and has held numerous belts, but this could very well be the greatest accomplishment of Pacquiao's storied career.
The journey began more than two years ago when Pacquiao was contacted by social worker and activist, Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, who ran the Visayan Forum in Manila, a shelter for young girls rescued from the illegal sex trade.
It is estimated that as many as 100,000 children work in the Filipino sex industry, most lured away from their families with promises of work and then forced into subservience with threats and violence. Tucked away in dark corners of red light districts and illegal cyber sex rooms, the children are sold to sex tourists and suffer through unimaginable daily degradations.
Flores-Oebanda had been giving of herself tirelessly, helping conduct raids to rescue girls as well as serving as a mother figure for the children, some as young as nine years old, as they work to rehabilitate their fragile psyches.
Perpetually strapped for cash and working against a mostly ambivalent Filipino government, she began pushing for legislation to help in her efforts and hoped to win Pacquiao's attention to her cause as a way to pump up interest and assure victory.
Pacquiao, who literally fought his way out of poverty in one of the nation's poorest slums, gave little hesitation to the plea for help and would pledge his support in a visit with Flores-Oebanda and the girls from the Visayan Forum in 2010.
"I think Manny is a very important milestone in our fight against human trafficking here in the Philippines because young people actually believe and listen to Manny," said Flores-Oebanda. "He's a hard-working guy, he came from a very poor family. He inspires a lot of people. Of course, everybody wants Manny in their own campaign, but I'm happy Manny is joining our fight."
The two long years since that initial pledge of support were stressful and troubling for Flores-Oebanda, who became buried in controversy amid accusations of misappropriation of funds given to her by USAID (The United States Agency for International Development).
The scandal froze all efforts at saving other girls and decimated the Visayan Forum operating budget, creating a terribly real scenario where the rescued children could very well be forced back to the streets.
Thankfully, Pacquiao's generous financial support has kept the shelter open and his continued work on their behalf has saved the organization from a public relations death blow.
"She [Flores-Oebanda] is like the mother of the nation because she protected the children," Pacquiao told CNN. "A few years from now, I might not [be] in boxing anymore, but my fight is continued to support Cecilia and Visayan Forum and, of course, to stop human trafficking."
Flores-Oebanda has filed a lawsuit against her bookkeeper and is awaiting her day in court to defend her own record-keeping practices.
In the meantime, Pacquiao took to the Filipino House of Representatives floor to give the speech that cinched victory for his side.
"During my visit to the Visayan Forum I talked to children as young as 9-years-old who are trafficked for prostitution…As politicians, we need to be true to our words and actions. We need to send a clear message; that Filipinos are not for sale."
For more information on the Visayan Forum, click HERE
To watch the CNN feature length documentary, "The Fighters," about Flores-Oebanda, Pacquiao, and their efforts to end human trafficking, click HERE
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.
- Society & Culture
- Manny Pacquiao
- human trafficking