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Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao is defending his title on Friday. And he's also running for Congress back home. Just part of the Philippines tradition of choosing heroes for elected officials. Sunshine de Leon reports from Manila.
MARCO WERMAN: Filipino boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao defends his WBO welterweight title tomorrow in Dallas. But Pacquiao is also looking to pick up another title, that of Congressman. He's running in the May elections in the Philippines. Sunshine de Leon reports from Manila.
SUNSHINE DE LEON: Manny Pacquiao has seen many fights in his 15 years in the ring, and he's won most of them. But these days, Pacquiao is looking for a career change. He's running for a Congressional seat back home in the Philippines. Pacquiao says he's fighting to end corruption and politics as usual.
MANNY PACQUIAO: I decided to run and enter in politics because I see a lot of politicians and they're always saying promise, promise, but they didn't do their promise.
DE LEON: To many here, Pacquiao is more than just a boxing legend; he's their hero. He rose from poverty to become a world champion. He's especially embraced by poor Filipinos who see him as one of their own. Pacquiao say if he's elected, he'll focus on their needs.
PACQUIAO: First my concern is to give them work. I care for their health and free school.
DE LEON: A boxer turned politician might seem a little unusual, though it's not unprecedented. Filipino voters have a tradition of electing cultural heroes to public office. Take Joseph Estrada. He was a movie star before becoming President. He was forced out f office on corruption charges, but he's trying to make a comeback. Alex Magno is a political scientist at the University of the Philippines. Speaking in a Manila restaurant, he says Filipino voters like their leaders to be larger than life, for several reasons.
ALEX MAGNO: The first is what we call big man politics. The Datu culture where the leader of the community is always relied upon to be better, stronger, faster, more magical than anybody else.
DE LEON: Then there's the culture of patronage. Magno says Congressmen aren't seen here as lawmakers.
MAGNO: They're seen as people who bring goodies from the national government to the locality, to the district.
DE LEON: Magno says Pacquiao is running to be the big man in his district. And that, along with his underprivileged background, is why local mayor Corazon Grafilo is supporting Pacquiao.
MAYOR CORAZON GRAFILO: You know the Filipino people are fond of simple, humble person which they can go to ask if they need help.
DE LEON: This isn't Pacquiao's first step into the political ring. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2007. The fact that his immense popularity didn't automatically translate into votes, suggests not everyone here wants to elect another hero. Local businessman Clint Esman worries about Pacquiao's lack of political experience, and about the influence that more seasoned politicians could have on him.
CLINT ESMAN: Somehow, maybe some of them, of course being Manny's friends, they could dictate Manny. Because for now, if Manny won the election, Manny don't know anything yet.
DE LEON: Esman thinks that Pacquiao can help the people more by staying out of politics and supporting projects for the poor. But Pacquiao says he can do more by showing Filipinos that politician isn't a synonym for crook.
PACQUIAO: Because right now, if you say politics, it's dirty. If you say politician, it's corrupt. So why you don't change that to politician, oh that's helpful person?
DE LEON: Whether Filipino voters want to give him the opportunity to be that helpful person remains to be seen. For The World, I'm Sunshine de Leon in Manila.
WERMAN: And besides being a boxer and a would-be Congressman, Manny Pacquiao is also a pop singer. That's him singing on Proud to be a Filipino.