Ceasefire for a day for Pacquiao

Ceasefire for a day for Pacquiao 
By Jaime Laude Updated May 03, 2009 12:00 AM

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A fan of Manny Pacquiao tries on a jacket with the boxing champ’s name on the back at a shop in Taguig. Jonjon Vicencio

MANILA, Philippines - It’s P-Day – as in Pacquiao Day – and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is expecting, just like in the past, that key threat groups will observe an undeclared truce to enable their fighters to watch Filipino boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao and British slugger Ricky Hatton square off in the ring in Las Vegas.

The AFP is setting up a wide screen at the Camp Aguinaldo gym to give soldiers and their families a chance to watch for free the highly anticipated fight.

Gen. Alexander Yano, who recently retired and was subsequently appointed ambassador to Brunei, will be cheering for Pacquiao at the AFP Theater.

“The whole AFP under the leadership of Gen. (Victor) Ibrado supports its very own M/Sgt Manny Pacquiao in his fight against Ricky Hatton,” said incoming AFP Public Information Office chief Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr.

“Win or lose, Pacquiao, the highest enlisted personnel reservist in the Army with the rank of master sergeant, will remain the soldiers’ hero,” Brawner said.

But he said soldiers who are assigned to counter-insurgency operations as well as those involved in barangay-based security have been reminded not to lower their guard against any lawless groups who might take advantage of today’s fight.

“Based on our intelligence reports in the past, the enemies (Moro Islamic Liberation Front, New People’s Army and even the Abu Sayyaf) have also set aside their weapons to cheer for Pacquiao,” Brawner said.

Marines as well as Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) troopers running after the Abu Sayyaf holding Italian Red Cross volunteer Eugenio Vagni have set up two wide screens inside the Marine headquarters at Camp Teodolfo Bautista in Sulu and at an undisclosed place outside the camp.

Joint Task Force Comet commander Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban has allowed civilians and MILF fighters to watch the fight as part of the task force’s non-combat military operations.

But the military operations against MILF commander Ameril Ombra Kato and his men in Central Mindanao will still continue despite the expected slowdown of lawless activities in the region.

Maj. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the primary concern of the soldiers now is the neutralization of Kato and his men.

However, he said troops based in various military headquarters can watch the fight for free on the big screens or on their television sets.

PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa said the battle between the world’s two most popular boxers is expected to bring peace to the entire country even for only a few hours.

But he also cautioned those who are going to see the fight in movie houses to be wary of the presence of pickpockets and snatchers.

Outpouring of support

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said the Department of Education is regarding Pacquiao as one of their own since he is their goodwill ambassador for their out-of-school programs.

According to Lapus, Pacquiao is involved in the agency’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) where one of the programs was the administering of Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Examinations to those who want to get a high school diploma but failed to obtain formal education.

Pacquiao had taken the A&E exams in 2007 and passed, earning a high school diploma, which he used as ticket to his still unfinished college education.

“We wish DepEd’s Ambassador for Out-of-School Youth Programs, Manny Pacquiao, another rousing victory in his fight,” Lapus said.

For his part, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiquez, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Public Affairs Committee, said he is not a Pacquiao “fanatic” but will join the Filipino people in praying for his victory.”

“It will be good for the country,” Iñiguez said. – With Rainier Allan Ronda and Evelyn Macairan