Typhoon survivors in Tacloban cheer Pacquiao triumph

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

TACLOBAN CITY (Updated) -- Thousands of survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) erupted into wild cheers Sunday to celebrate the victory of Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, bringing back laughter and revelry briefly to a central Philippine region that was turned into a corpse strewn wasteland by the powerful storm.

Pacquiao's triumph over American Brandon Rios in Macau served as a rallying point for many still-traumatized survivors, many of whom lost loved ones and their homes to the November 8 typhoon, which killed more than 5,200 people and left 1,600 others missing. Yolanda also damaged or destroyed one million homes, displacing more than three million people.

But on Sunday, many jumped repeatedly in joy as they cheered on Pacquiao, who won by unanimous decision to take the WBO international welterweight title.

Typhoon Yolanda survivors in Tacloban celebrate Manny Pacquiao’s victory
TACLOBAN. Typhoon survivors celebrate Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao's win via a unanimous decision over American Brandon Rios in their WBO international welterweight boxing match in Macau Sunday Nov. 24, 2013 in Tacloban City, Leyte. (AP)

"I was so happy and I wanted to cry, but there were too many people," said street sweeper Ardel Nebasa, who lost his home in tsunami-like storm surges that ravaged the city of Tacloban.

"It would have felt like another storm has hit if he lost," said Nebasa, who watched the match with his son and thousands of other people on a TV screen set up in a public plaza in Tacloban.

Another survivor waved a cardboard placard that read: "We're for Pacquiao, God bless, Tacloban will rise again."

A damaged house in the city of more than 200,000 people displayed a painted image of the boxing superstar with a battle cry: "Fight Tacloban!"

Residents also cheered at Tacloban's seaside stadium, where they watched the fight on a giant screen, their view partly obscured by the light filtering through holes in the ceiling. One man carried a Philippine flag.

Many residents were so excited to watch Pacquiao they asked officials to temporarily halt the distribution of relief goods, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said.

Pacquiao dedicated his comeback fight to Yolanda victims and promised to visit Tacloban and outlying regions devastated by the typhoon.

Interviewed by Manila's dzBB radio network after his victory, Pacquiao thanked the Filipino people, particularly the typhoon survivors who prayed for him. "The honor is for you," he said.

President Benigno Aquino III's spokesman, Herminio Coloma, said Pacquiao "once again united the hearts and mind of our countrymen who are facing intense challenges brought by a series of tragedies that have befallen our country."

"In 12 rounds, Manny displayed unmatched speed and strength to defeat his opponent, and once again, triumph inside the ring," said presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda in a statement.

"It is our hope that the principle that guides him in each fight does not change: that every punch he throws, is a punch for the honor of our people," he added. [READ: Palace congratulates Pacquiao]

Vice President Jejomar Binay and lawmakers also thanked Pacquiao for dedicating his victory over Rios to the Filipino people, especially to the typhoon victims.

"He is an inspiration to his kababayans and a reminder that the Filipino can rise above adversity and weather any storm," said Binay.

Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga said Pacquiao cheered up the nation saddened by calamities and the alleged multi-billion peso pork barrel scam. He also hoped that Pacquiao's next duel will be staged in the Philippines.

The eight-division champion showed to the world the resiliency of the Filipino spirit, said Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles.

"Just like Manny, the Filipino people will rise, fight and succeed," added Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who watched the fight at ringside after having received free tickets from the boxer.

Pacquiao absorbed back-to-back losses last year, highlighted by a frightening knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez.

But on Sunday, when the bell rang to signal the end of the 12-round match, many spectators in Tacloban threw their baseball caps, shirts and pieces of cardboard into the air, even before the result was officially announced.

Nebasa said Tacloban residents would eagerly await the visit of Pacquiao, who rose from poverty to become one of the world's highest-paid athletes.

"We'll be thankful if he can help us," Nebasa said. "He came from the ranks of the poor and we identify with him and are happy for his triumphs."

Hundreds of typhoon survivors and aid workers, as well as several US Navy personnel, also watched the bout in a grandstand at Manila's Villamor air base.

In Macau, the 13,200-seat arena at the Venetian, where the fight was held, was packed. Many in the audience were Filipinos, some of whom waved Philippine flags and chanted, "Manny, Manny."

Businessman Bong Ferrer said Pacquiao's victory was a boost amid so much misery.

"This is a high morale day to the Filipino people," he said.

Celebrity couple Annabelle Rama and Eddie Gutierrez, who were accompanied by daughter Ruffa and Richard's girlfriend Sarah Lahbati in Macau to watch the fight, also congratulated Pacquiao for his victory.

Ruffa posted photos and videos of the match on her official Instagram page. She then applauded Manny on this latest win. "The one and only champion! Mabuhay ka Manny Pacquiao!" she said.

In the Philippines, other Filipino celebrities watched Sunday’s fight, and send their congratulatory messages to the Pacman. [READ: Celebrities laud Pacquiao’s win]

The netizens also erupted in cheers on Sunday after Pacquiao was declared the winner.

The hashtags #MannyPacquiao, #PinoyPride, #GoManny, #FilipinoPride and word Pacman trended Sunday afternoon on Twitter, taking the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth places, respectively.

The netizens described Pacquiao's triumph as the true representation of what a Filipino is.

Aside from Pacquiao, two other Filipino boxers had made a notable win at the Cotai Arena in Macau on Sunday.

Pacquiao’s sparring partner Dan Nazareno Jr. and 19-year-old unbeaten prospect Harmonito dela Torre both knocked their opponents out in the undercard. [READ: Nazareno, dela Torre stop foes in undercard] (AP/With SDR/Virgil Lopez/Glaiza Jarloc/ANC of Sun.Star Davao/EKA of Sun.Star Cebu/Sunnex)

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