Amid a shower of confetti, gyrating dancers and an audience screaming for good luck, you’d expect the controversial Willie Revillame to come out and do his thing onstage.
Instead, it was eight-division world boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, dapper in a Rajo Laurel outfit, who burst into the spotlight on Saturday night at the premiere of a GMA 7 show at the AFP Theater in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
It’s not your set, folks. Dubbed “Pacman” in boxing circles, the pound-for-pound king, politician, and part-time actor-singer has a new entry in his resumé: game show host.
At the pilot for the show titled “Manny Many Prizes,” the ring legend hailed by Filipinos as their “Pambansang Kamao” (Nation’s Fist) acquired a new moniker as “Pambansang Ninong” (Nation’s Godfather).
For in a way, Pacquiao played ninong as he gave away “aguinaldo,” or Christmas presents, months in advance.
Wilma Galvante, the GMA senior vice president for TV Entertainment, said it was Pacquiao’s idea to follow up his recently concluded sitcom “Show Me da Manny” with a game show where he can also indulge in his other passion, singing.
The director, Louie Ignacio, said Pacman had proven to be an all-around entertainer who could easily follow instructions and put on a good show despite his exhaustion and lack of sleep.
“He’s intelligent and able to memorize the blocking quickly,” Ignacio noted.
“I just want to help our countrymen,” Pacquiao told the Inquirer in Filipino, adding that he himself came up with the show’s concept and title.
He conceded that being dubbed “ninong” to his millions of fans comes with a huge responsibility. “But that’s OK. I can do it. It’s inspiring.”
House and lot
For his opening salvo, Pacman gave away prizes worth over P2 million, including a house-and-lot package that went to 61-year-old stroke survivor Vito Roldan.
He also awarded a fast-food kiosk business worth P60,000 to a high-school dropout.
Galvante said Pacquiao, being a coproducer of the show, would have a share in its revenues. Apart from hosting, his job includes finding sponsors for the prizes, she added.
“He’s very involved in the project and has genuine concern for others,” Galvante said. “It depends on Manny and the sponsors if the show will give away bigger prizes next time.”
The show airs every Saturday and is being pitted by GMA against “Will Time Big Time,” a game show hosted by Revillame on TV5.
But Pacquiao maintained that he was “not challenging Willie” to a mano a mano for ratings. “I don’t look at it as competition. In fact, I don’t look at the shows on the other networks.”
“Willie is my friend,” he explained, noting that he had worked closely with Revillame during the presidential campaign of Sen. Manny Villar last year.
Pacquiao said other networks should consider his new project a welcome development because “it’s good that there are more people who have game shows that help our countrymen.”
But isn’t a rivalry inevitable? “We’ll see,” Galvante said. “It all depends on Manny.”
Till then, Pacquiao seemed content just relishing the moment.
“I got goose bumps when I saw the crowd,” he said. “I hope we could hold it in a bigger venue. I hope we could do this every day.”
No more stampedes
Still, the inaugural episode of “Manny Many Prizes” on Saturday was not without hitches. One game, for example, was discontinued when the crowd grew unruly and Pacquiao had to step in to appeal for calm and order.
Organizers apparently made sure there won’t be a repeat of the 2006 stampede that marred Revillame’s show “Wowowee” on ABS-CBN, in which 78 people were crushed to death at the gates of PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
Marshals and other production staff members were posted all over AFP Theater to look after the safety of the contestants and spectators.
After the show, paramedics were put on standby near Roldan, the stroke victim who won the house and lot, as a news crew approached him for an interview. A nurse took his blood pressure as he fielded questions.
The new homeowner actually didn’t win in the final round of the game, but Pacquiao nonetheless decided to give him the top prize.
“When he learned that he just lost, he didn’t get sad or upset,” Pacman recalled. “He just shrugged it all off and said ‘okay.’ That made me decide all the more to give the house and lot to him.”
Galvante said she hoped that Pacquiao’s brand of generosity would make the show stand out from the others.
“He has a clear objective,” the network executive said. “He doesn’t just want to give doles for [its own] sake. He wants each of the winners to be deserving of the help he’s extending to them. He wants each winner to share a story that would be uplifting to the viewers, too.”
She said the show would avoid promoting the so-called “culture of mendicancy.”
Onstage, Roldan told Pacman that his children had already abandoned him in his condition, a revelation that prompted the host to remind the audience to “love and honor your parents, so that when you grow old your children would take care of you, too.”
When another contestant shared that she hailed from Calamba City in Laguna, Pacquiao remarked that he once worked as a construction worker there. “I also sold sampaguita (flowers) and pan de sal (in that province),” he recalled.
When another contestant mentioned the town of Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal, the rags-to-riches sports hero recounted that he used to go to a “baile or disco” there as a young man.
Pacquiao later explained that he brought up his humble beginnings on the show “to inspire the audience.”
“All that I said there really happened. I want the viewers to realize the value of hard work. I also came from nothing. But I didn’t give up despite our poverty,” he told the Inquirer.
Galvante also said the network was planning to take the show on the road. “We will visit Cebu, other provinces and hopefully other countries—everywhere where there are Filipinos.”