ON the morning of November 24, 2013, thousands of displaced Filipinos packed into convention centres and parks in the Eastern Visayas region of their country to watch the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios. For the boxing public, the fight held little significance. Pacquiao had been inactive for nearly a year following his sixth-round knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, while Rios appeared to be a safe enough opponent to return Manny to the win column. Yet, for those who two weeks prior had lost their homes, family members and livelihoods during Typhoon Yolanda, the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history, the fight was a welcome distraction.
The natural disaster ravaged the coastal areas with up to 20-foot storm surge from 145-mile-per-hour sustained winds, leaving over 6,000 dead and many more lost to the sea. Many still didn’t have ample shelter or clean water, but, for two hours at least, they could forget about the frustrations of waiting for relief goods, the unforgiving heat that bared down on them from sunrise to sunset, and the paralysing fear of an uncertain future.
In the preceding weeks, Pacquiao had been at home in the unaffected area of General Santos City preparing for a contest that would make or break his future in the sport. But as fight week in Macau heated up, Pacquiao expressed solidarity with the suffering people in his nation, telling his countrymen: “This fight is for you.”