He arrived at dawn and ate breakfast at a Makati hotel. So did his hundred-strong entourage, which this morning included reporters, motorcycle police, bodyguards and passing tourists. Standing in the long line for the buffet, and ignored by all around him, was Pacquiao himself. I had heard the boxer was down to earth, a man of the people, but still—this kind of humility was impressive.
Of course it wasn’t Manny Pacquiao. It was a lookalike called Manny Paksiw, now part of the boxer’s ever-ballooning retinue.
Paksiw—which in Tagalog means cooking with vinegar and garlic—sat down beside a short, professorial-looking Filipino who, with his goatee and headband, was a dead-ringer for Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s legendary American trainer. He called himself Fredy Root. It is a measure of Roach’s stature in the Philippines that he also has his own impersonator.
Yesterday afternoon I visited Pacquiao’s gym and hung out with another Manny lookalike, his brother Eslao, and three other members of Team Pacquiao: Jojo, the gym’s caretaker, and ex-military bodyguards George and Danny. They plied me and the photographer Gerhard Joren with extra-strong Red Horse beer. That’s when things started getting surreal.
At the hotel today, the real Manny ate breakfast in a private room with his wife Jinkee, his daughter Princess, and yet another Manny—presidential front-runner Villar. Then he swept through the hotel lobby in an impenetrable scrum of bodyguards and television cameras. There was no chance to introduce myself. But courtesy of Gerhard, at least I got a souvenir: this photo with Manny Paksiw and Fredy Root.