MARBEL, Philippines: Manny Pacquiao is used to the frenzy. Tens of thousands of fans throng feverishly in front of the stage in the heavy, sticky heat of a tropical night. Young and old, rural and urban, devout and secular: all are eager for a glimpse of the man who is undeniably the Philippines’ most famous sporting hero.”I would not be where I am today without you, and now I want to help the Philippines,” he declares. ”What is important is my relationship to God and to the Filipino people.”Pacquiao’s rise from poverty to superstardom is a narrative that resonates with many Filipinos. But as the campaign for the May 10 election intensifies, the man considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters the world has seen is facing a greater challenge than just another welterweight slugger in the ring.In running for Congress in a rural province of Mindanao, Pacquiao joins a group of athletes who have sought to make the leap to politician.”Boxing is about honour,” he says in a pool bar that he owns in General Santos City. ”Now I want to be known as a good public servant. I want to be known as a generous person.”Politically, it is a seductive message – 40 per cent of Filipinos live on less than $US2 a day. Pacquiao has been drawing on a personal fortune estimated at more than $US40 million ($43 million) to support projects in his province such as providing water to impoverished areas.And guards at his mansion say he rarely leaves home without giving cash to the crowds of destitute people who gather there each day. His electoral pitch is that he would lobby for the most basic needs of the 600,000 people in his district: livelihood programs, free education, healthcare and medical assistance.”That’s the major problem right now,” he says. ”Do they need money? No. They need livelihood, to feed their family. They will not ask the government to help them if they have work.”The fever surrounding ”Pacman”, as he is known, is heady. But some sceptics note that sports stars do not always fare well in politics.The economist Winnie Monsod, a professor at the University of the Philippines, does not doubt his sincerity, but she says: ”I am not ready to translate that sincerity into actual deeds, because the other politicians he associates with do not exactly have the highest reputation for integrity.”Pacquiao has aligned himself with the presidential candidate Manny Villar, an outside chance, who is taking on a colourful slate of candidates.Among these are the son of the former president Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino, and the disgraced former president Joseph Estrada.Pacquiao’s failed attempts at an acting and singing career may also indicate people’s lack of readiness to accept him in a new role.”They love him as a boxer but may not be ready to take him in any other capacity,” Dr Monsod says.Guardian News & Media