UNWAVERING in his belief that it is every Filipino's duty to answer the call of flag and country, boxing hero Manny Pacquiao said playing for the national team is an honor and privilege no one should turn his back to.
And two days after announcing his intention to run for a Senate seat, Pacquiao declared that one of his priority bills if and when elected is to mandate every Filipino athlete to answer the call of the national team.
Pacquiao, who also is playing-coach of Mahindra in the PBA, said he was aware of the difficulties the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) encountered in the formation of the Gilas Pilipinas team that finished runner-up to China in the 2015 Fiba Asia Championship.
"Sa basketball, pagdating sa mga ganyan, magpapasa tayo ng (panukalang) batas na kung ikaw ay naglalaro pa at kinuha ka ng team ng Pilipinas, dapat obligado ka maglaro," said Pacquiao.
"Halimbawa, Pilipino ka, bumuo ng team ang bansa - you have to participate," added the eight-division world boxing champion, who has become the most popular Filipino athlete in the world.
"Kung hindi ka magre-respond sa tawag ng bandila, kung hindi ka susunod, hindi mo dapat sinasabi na Pilipino ka."
Although he declined to go into details, Pacquiao said only a law can do away with the usual conflict arising from the formation of future national teams, both in basketball and in other sports.
"Kasi wala tayong batas para magpilit sa kanila na sumali sa Team Pilipinas. Kailangan natin ng bill siguro na ganyan, para ma-obliga sila na lumaro," said the Sarangani congressman.
"Being a Filipino, you should comply and respect our nation's flag. This is an honor for our country."
Pacquiao said he watched most of the games Gilas 3.0 played in Changsha, China, heaping praise on the performance of a team that came a win short of earning a ticket to next year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"Malakas 'yung team natin, maganda yung ipinakita, lahat. Talagang nagkataon lang (natalo tayo sa final). Okay naman pinakita ng players natin, talaga lang siguro na hindi atin. Nakita mo naman nag-finals tayo," he said.
Asked if big men June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar and Raymond Almazan and deadly shooters Paul Lee and Marcio Lassiter could have made a difference for Gilas, Pacquiao said: "Siguro yung mga ibang players na dapat tumugon, eh kung andun siguro sila, nakatulong pa. Hindi nababad yung iba nating magagaling.
"So, isa talaga 'yan sa mga priority ko (kung makakapasok tayo sa Senado)," said the 'Pacman.'
Pacquiao's congressional chief of staff Kit Mercado bared the world boxing champion loathes seeing fellow Filipinos turn their backs on the Philippine flag.
"Ayaw niya kasi na nababalewala ang pagmamahal sa bansa. Para kasi sa kanya, hindi lang makikita 'yan sa pagiging mabuting mamamayan, kundi dapat ipinagmamalaki mo ang pagka-Pilipino mo," said Mercado.
"Lagi naman niyang sinasabi yun eh. Kasi siya personally, kung ano ang hamon na binigay sa kanya, hindi nya inuurungan especially kung magbibigay ng karangalan sa bansa o makakatulong sa ibang tao," she added.
Here's the video of Spin.ph interview with Pacquiao: