Pacquiao fight brings moment of unity to Philippines

MANILA (Reuters) - From air-conditioned corporate boardrooms to steamy public gymnasiums, Filipinos are counting down the hours to local boxing icon Manny Pacquiao’s fight with undefeated American Floyd Mayweather Jr. in Las Vegas.

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The world welterweight championship bout, which is being called the “fight of the century”, will bring the country to a standstill on Sunday and mark a rare period of unity for the poor Southeast Asian nation.

“We also expect Maoist rebels and Muslim extremists to watch the Pacquaio-Mayweather fight,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Cabunoc, army spokesman, adding that wide television screens will be set up in all military camps, including conflict areas.

“Filipinos are all united behind our own hero. We are all rooting for Manny. We expect a very peaceful day, no crime, no fighting.”

Pacquiao is a lieutenant colonel in the army reserve force.

A life-size Pacquiao 70-kg chocolate cake, which took two weeks to make, went on display on Saturday in Manila and slices will be given away after the bout.

Cinemas and restaurants have sold out tickets for the fight, and even prisoners at Saranggani jail will have the chance to watch the fight.

Taxi driver Manolo Garcia said he would stop for a few hours to listen to his radio.

“Win or lose, I am for Manny Pacquiao,” he said. “I will pray for him, I will pray for his victory. God is on his side.”

Local boxing analysts say the pressure is on Mayweather, who is seeking to preserve his unblemished professional record.

More than 86 million punches have been thrown at a virtual punching bag set up three weeks ago by the Philippines’ largest broadcast network, ABS-CBN, to support eight-division champion Pacquiao.

Electricity distributor Manila Electric Company assured its customers there would be no power outage on fight day, but power generators on the southern island of Mindanao may not meet the surge in electricity demand.

“We want to avoid a revolt here, we have prepared for that,” said Maria Cora Tito, tourism officer of General Santos City, showing Reuters a standby generator.

Editing by Peter Rutherford