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Famed Filipino boxer heads to the polls

Manny Pacquiao's fans are divided over whether they can risk tarnishing his pristine image with the mudslinging of politics.

Manny Pacquiao celebrates his 12 round TKO victory against Miguel Cotto during their WBO welterweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Nov. 14, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

MANILA, Philippines — Famed Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao is planning his next knockout, but this time it won't be in the boxing ring.

Instead, he is running for a Congressional seat in the May Philippine national elections. With many of his most ardent supporters divided over whether they want him to fight outside the ring, it could be his toughest bout yet.

To the Filipino people, Pacquiao is more than just a legend in the boxing world — he is their hero. Considered as the pound-for-pound best fighter the world has seen, he has made the Philippines proud.

Pacquiao’s fan base crosses economic, social and religious divisions, uniting the country in an unprecedented way. Having risen from abject poverty to being the only world boxing champion across seven divisions, his life story provides inspiration to a country where 40 percent of the population lives off less than $2 a day.

Although many believe he has yet to reach the peak of his career, Pacquiao feels boxing is not his ultimate calling. His transition from fighter to politician is driven by a desire to improve the world he grew up in.

“I wanna help poor people and I want to be a good public servant. All my life I see a lot of politicians always saying promises but didn’t do their promise. I am a real person, I want to be honest to the people who want me to serve,” Pacquiao said in a recent interview at a hotel in Manila.

If elected to the House of Representatives for Sarangani, the province on the southern island of Mindanao where his wife is from and where he also grew up, he says he will focus on the most essential needs of the people. “My concern is to give them a work, livelihood and of course care for their health and school, free school. You know people don’t actually want to get money by not working. What they need is to have a work everyday to support their families,” says Pacquiao.

He also hopes to be an ambassador of peace, promoting stability and order in an area that has long suffered from political, ethnic and religious violence. Pacquiao explains, “I can help talk to them about the problem and explain we don’t need to kill each other. They are doing bad things because they don’t have communication with the government.”

This is not Pacquiao’s first step into the political ring. He ran for Congress in 2007 but was defeated. In the past, the Filipinos have shown a tendency to both elect their “heroes” into political office, and expect their politicians to act as “saviors.” The fact that Pacquiao’s immense popularity did not automatically translate into votes hints that Pacquiao has actually transcended the status of a hero — become something of an icon that the populace feels the need to protect and preserve.