Yet to understand all that is Pacquiao, one must understand the epical dysfunction of his entourage. Because the entourage is the everyday manifestation of the larger Pacquiao “thing”—the way the two narratives he carries within him obliterate each other, matter and antimatter.
Take Luis “Chavit” Singson. The Governor, they call him, though he no longer holds that office. He’s a 68-year-old tobacco magnate and one of the most powerful men in the Philippines. He’s Manny’s main political sponsor and a close friend—the kind admitted into the ring after fights. The Governor takes care of things for Manny. Actually, the Governor takes care of all sorts of things, some of which he speaks about with surprising candor. Say, the millions of dollars in gambling kickbacks he gave to former Philippine president Joseph Estrada. Or beating up his mistress. Last summer, the Governor found her with a younger man. He and a number of cohorts allegedly rectified this situation with (among other implements) a tiger whip.
“I beat up both of them!” the Governor cheerfully told a radio interviewer in September, after a picture of the mistress, her face looking like a lasagna, appeared on the front page of The Philippine Star. “It’s good I’m not ruthless,” he added. “I didn’t kill them.”
The Governor was gracious enough to fly me and some two dozen other members of Team Pacquiao from Manila to General Santos for Manny’s birthday party. We sat together. Later, one Team Pacquiao member expressed surprise that the Governor hadn’t shown me the picture in his wallet.
“That guy’s dick.”
“After the Governor’s guys had laid it on a table and whacked it with a hammer. It had to be surgically cut off after. Too mauled.”
On the plane, I asked the Governor about Manny. “Girls squeal” in Pacquiao’s presence, he remarked. “Like the sound of a pig being slaughtered!” But after a few minutes he changed the subject. “I have twelve tiger. When I home, I swim with them every day. But now I want to make liger, yes?” The product of a lion and a tiger. “So I bring lion in, and he do this, yes?” The Governor made a fucky-fucky motion with his right index finger and his closed left fist. “And he do, and he do. No liger. And so I make him do, and do some more. And then…acchhhhh!”
The Governor clasped his hands to his heart and rolled his eyes back in their orbits; his lion stud had literally died of a cardiac infarction while being made to copulate for the umpteenth time with one of his tigresses.
“No liger,” the Governor said dejectedly.
Or take Joe Ramos, who was also on the Governor’s plane. (He’s the one who’d advised me to be “ready” at the Mandarin Oriental. After several scheduled interviews didn’t materialize, I’d sought help from other Team Pacquiao handlers, whose contempt for Ramos was matched only by their contempt that I had not gone to them first.) Joe is a close friend of Manny’s. Manny says so. Multiple members of Team Pacquiao say Ramos stole a substantial amount of money from Manny. (Manny and Joe call the issue a misunderstanding.) According to these members, Manny told Joe he was angry and saddened by the betrayal, but that he forgave him. So Joe remained in the fold.
The thing is, a number of people have stolen from Manny, been caught by Manny, then been forgiven by Manny: Never has a fighter been possessed of so pacifistic a nature. What’s more, there seems to be a consensus that these redeemed-Judas tableaux were… pre-scripted.
“He has made numerous people in his camp believe in God with what he’s done,” Ramos says. “Do you understand?”
Abac Cordero puts it more directly: “I think he was put here to make us better men. There is a feeling that those who betrayed him had to, so that Manny could teach them.”
“Sometimes, the way things happen with Manny, it’s like, parables,” Ramos says. “Here’s one: At the last training camp there were about thirty of us there. Now, one of my jobs is to lower the overall costs of living. So we go to this Thai restaurant next to [Roach’s gym]. Our bill there was between $500 and $700 every day. So I said, ‘Manny, why don’t we buy some food from the local Philippine restaurant and have it delivered to your apartment? It’ll only cost about $150.’ Manny took me by the shoulders and in front of everybody said, ‘Don’t ever mess with another man’s livelihood. Now let us enjoy their food.’ “
It is difficult for an American to comprehend the degree to which Manny Pacquiao keeps his disciples close. Not just emotionally but bodily. When training in Los Angeles, where Roach’s gym is located, Pacquiao rarely stays in the home he recently purchased. Instead, some fifteen members of Team Pacquiao—an ever metastasizing organism currently comprising about three dozen men—stays in a dingy two-room apartment.
“Whoever’s on the best terms with Manny at that moment sleeps closest to him, at the foot of his bed,” Roach says. “You think I’m joking? The first time I went to the Philippines, they put four guys in my room. I said, ‘What is this bullshit? I want my own room.’ And they were like, ‘Team Pacquiao likes to be together!’ So I wound up in the bed, and these…guys, helpers, sparring partners, Manny’s brother, Bobby, slept on the floor.”
Why is it that the closer Manny Pacquiao brings his people to his bosom, the more incapable they become of speaking for him, representing him, even knowing him?
“Because they’re scared,” Roach says. “Nobody wants to be the guy who asks Manny the question that might irritate him on a particular day. If you’re the guy who says, ‘Manny, you’re supposed to fly to Manila today,’ and Manny doesn’t want to hear it, you might not be the guy who gets to fluff his rice.”