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Bill Dwyre: Early reports predict knockout win for Manny Pacquiao in Philippines congressional election

May 10, 2010 | 10:33 am

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Reporting from General Santos City, Philippines -- The polls close in 30 minutes and the congressional candidate is getting a rubdown on the couch.

This is Election Day in the Philippines and there are several ways to describe what goes on here. Bizarre works.

The only reason you are reading about this on the sports pages is that the congressional candidate is one of the greatest boxers of all time. Were he to win the election, as he has all his fights since 2005 and 51 of his 56 overall, he would make history of sorts. After all, when was the last time we had a world-renowned athlete, in his prime, caucusing and clenching at the same time?

Manny Pacquiao is on the couch in the family room of his home. They call it The Mansion. It is very nice, but would turn no heads in Beverly Hills. As a young woman named Rachel works his calves and thighs through his blue jeans, Pacquiao juggles several cellphones and a portable radio. Reports are coming in from the field. He is optimistic.

The TV drones in the background. For hours, the same crawls have drifted across the bottom of the screen. Three voting machines have malfunctioned somewhere. Voting lines are four hours long somewhere else. Manny Pacquiao cast his vote in Sarangani.

This is the first time they have used electronic voting machines in the Philippines. Next up, the introduction of the Edsel. There is controversy everywhere. They have spent $7-billion pesos, or about $15 million, to try this newfangled idea and many hate it, even though there were still a few results of the last big election in 2007, from a hand-counted vote, being reversed two months ago.

The new setup has people filling out long forms of paper, most of them while squeezed into classroom chairs, and then inserting their ballot into a machine that resembles a paper shredder. If your hands are greasy or smudged, the machine may not take your ballot. If you don’t see well and don’t insert the paper exactly into the guides as indicated, the machine may reject your vote. Controversy is the order of the day, or so the TV stations seem to hope.

The day has a bumbling Inspector Clouseau feel to it. Save us, Peter Sellers.

So confident of the success of his voting system was the man from Spain who created it that he handed his passport over to Philippine officials late last week. Pray for his safe transport, whenever that might be.

Monday’s Election Day holiday drones on through the early afternoon with few developments. Nothing is happening and Philippine television breathlessly reports all of it.

Upstairs, the candidate naps.

The time is passed with tales of Philippine election dirty tricks. One is to offer cash for a thumb print to voters certain to vote against you. The next day, the voter with the inked thumb goes to vote and is disqualified by the ink. Another is to stack up the voting line early with all your voters and have them go so slowly that the other candidate’s voters to the rear give up and go home without voting.

The sleeping candidate emerges about 4:30 p.m. He sits at a dining room table and plops down three cellphones and the walkie-talkie. The dining room table becomes command central, which is quickly upstaged by Pacquiao’s 16-month-old daughter, whose first name works perfectly as a description. Dark-eyed, cute-as-bug Queen Pacquiao sits in the candidate’s lap and tries to get her own answers out of the walkie-talkie.

“She’s an American,” Pacquiao says. “She was born in Los Angeles.”

By 6:30, rubdown time, the day is looking up. Incoming calls are telling Pacquiao he is winning. That is huge news. Also shocking. His opponent is from one of the most powerful families in the Philippines.

At one point, a smiling Pacquiao puts down his mobile toys and declares that his team had won with special tactics. “We hit them with an atomic bomb,” he says.

At 7:30, it is time to go. A short trip away is a small cement-block house, the real command central. There are people working computers from each voting district. There is a big board in the middle of the room with precincts and candidates scribbled in grease pen amidst wavy, unkempt lines.

A happy mood gets happier. Each reporting precinct brings an overwhelming victory. Disbelief turns to celebration. There is a long night ahead. The voting machines are spitting out results at the speed of an Edsel. But Pacquiao has won the early rounds and will be hard to catch. It appears that the experts were wrong, just like they were for the De La Hoya fight.

Another knockout for Manny Pacquiao.

-- Bill Dwyre

Photo: Manny Pacquiao greets supporters after casting his vote Monday in Sarangani. Credit: STR / EPA.

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