Big Fish, Little Fish

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 25 March 2010

General Santos City, in the southern Philippines, is famous for tuna. But the real big fish is Manny Pacquiao, who grew up around here.

He is scheduled to arrive tomorrow, on what a Filipino colleague claims (improbably) will be the boxing champ’s latest toy: a private jet. The victory parade will take him to nearby Sarangani, to a two-year-old house he has barely lived in. Pacquiao must establish the fiction that he actually lives in this provincial backwater so that he can run for a seat in the Philippine Congress in May.

I’ve been getting up to speed on Sarangani with the help of its official website. About 400,000 people live in the coastal province. It has only seven towns. The town of Glan breeds Canadian Sergeant Fish for Hong Kong’s restaurants. Kiamba, where Pacquiao has built his house, is “Sarangani’s cleanest and greenest town.” And Maitum? “It is known for its well-enforced solid waste disposal system,” says the website.

Mindanao, the vast island on which Sarangani lies, is known for something else: political violence. Last November, gunmen led by the son of a local despot in nearby Maguindanao massacred 57 people, more than half of them journalists. (A documentary about the massacre by Filipino-American filmmaker Orlando de Guzman is now showing on Al Jazeera.) In the Philippines, and especially in Mindanao, murdering reporters is a favourite sport of the rich and the ruthless. One journalist, Dennis Cuesta, was fatally shot right outside our hotel in 2008.

These grim events will doubtless discourage some foreign reporters from covering Pacquiao’s political campaign. But not Gerhard Joren, the Swedish photographer I’m working with. Gerhard and I have been comparing press cards. Mine is issued by the Thai government and is marked “property of The Public Relations Department.” Gerhard’s was cobbled together by a Filipino colleague, then laminated for extra authority. It declares that the holder is “cleared for working around situations involving police work, special and catastrophic events, drug raids and street violence”—in other words, a normal day in Mindanao.

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