Mr. Galang, a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms, specializes in governance issues. This piece was published in the July 18, 2011 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.


As Congress convenes for its regular session on the third Monday of July 2011, expect the public to scrutinize the behavior of the most celebrated legislators.  No doubt, among them is Manny Pacquiao, the boxing champ.

An old rule of thumb in boxing warns a boxer from fighting out of his weight division. The belief is that although you can bring your weight up, it’s likely you can’t bring your punch with you.  Manny Pacquiao moved up seven times, winning eight world titles in eight divisions, without leaving his lethal punch behind.

I’m not sure if similar rules apply to boxers moving from boxing to legislating. There is hardly any difference between the two anyway. Cynics know, for example, that both are serious in providing mass amusement – boxing as a one-ring circus, legislation as a two-ring one. And so Pacquiao must have known by now that if you win a seat in Congress, you don’t forget to bring your punch line with you.

(A challenge posed by a pugilistic lady senator for a boxing match leaves an option open for a corollary rule – bring your killer left-hook along with you, too.)

Pacquiao’s passion for preparation, which he unleashes before each and every fight, will no doubt put him in good stead when he dons his suit for a congressional show. To paraphrase Thomas Edison’s edict: Legislation is one percent intelligence, 99% staff work. The person of coach-cum-trainer Freddie Roach proves the point in boxing, but only in boxing.

In Congress, he has to get a good chief of staff, and a really good one is someone not like a lawyer. Unless, as in the case of Roach, he is not averse to the idea of having someone translate the gibberish for him.

His recent mocked attempt to interpellate the sponsor of the Reproductive Health bill was an experience rich in insights. The fact that he was asking questions in scripted fashion was not the fault. The script was bad, and that was partly the fault. A skilled scriptwriter will do a better job next time. The fatal mistake lies elsewhere. A flyweight (105 lbs.) fighting a heavyweight (200 lbs.) is a foolish mismatch in boxing. No amount of training is good enough to prepare you for the fight. Floor debates in congress abide by the same rule, which goes without saying.

The way from the ring to congress is a wringer for Pacquiao. I think it’s nothing more but a subplot to a bigger tale that shows him moving up from the slums to “society.”  The social snobs have a way of putting it – you can leave the slums, but the slums stay in you.

When a tight circle of rich people (and those who ape them) stare at you meanly, watching every word you say and every move you make (sorry, Sting), you have no choice but to “perform.”

Performance takes on at least two meanings in this wise. One is getting the job done.

The other is in the sense of theatrical performance, which makes the most sense for Pacquiao. His scriptwriter, preferably somebody who’s a playwright, must know enough about his craft to coach him in the art of “wearing a look” or putting on a mask. The world’s a stage, after all.

In fact, sociologist Erving Goffman has built a theory around this theme, “the presentation of self in everyday life,” using precisely the theater as metaphor. He coined a phrase that later grew into a corporatese—“impression management”—lending the figurative mask a legitimate status as a tool for social progress. (I’m surprised to know that the words “person,” “role” and “mask” share the same  Latin root in persona – implying that humankind has been playing “let’s pretend” for ages? )

There’s very little in boxing that I can use to illustrate the point, because much of what is expected of you as a ring gladiator is to get the jab done. Nothing beats a win by KO in leaving spectators with a good impression.  Knocking out an opponent on the floor of Batasan is deemed as “unparliamentary conduct,” notwithstanding the cheers of “Manny! Manny!” from the gallery.

I have been a long-time habitué of the congressional gallery that allowed me to watch legislators at work, from which I’ve drawn this profound hint: When you are not busy, look intelligent. When you are not intelligent, look busy.