Filipino boxers

Aging boxers seek pension law for ring champs

Lynde Salgados
Aging boxers seek pension law for ring champs

HOPING. Rene Barrientos says he and the rest of Philippine boxing's elite class have long been waiting for a pension bill for former boxing champions and titleholders to get approved by Congress.

Franz Lopez/Rappler

Rene Barrientos, one of the three surviving oldest Filipino world boxing champions, says it was about time that the government started looking into the sad plight of boxers who once brought honor to the country

Retired and aging boxers called on Congress to seriously consider passing a law that seeks to give the country’s forgotten boxing heroes pensions.

Cagayan de Oro’s Rene Barrientos, one of the three surviving oldest Filipino world boxing champions, said it was about time that the government started looking into the sad plight of boxers who once brought honor to the country.

Barrientos, a former WBC super featherweight champion, cited the case of former WBA flyweight titlist Bernabe Villacampo, who ended up bed-ridden after suffering a stroke.

He said Villacampo’s wife, Edna, asked him to assist in getting help for her ailing husband in Toledo, Cebu.

Barrientos and Villacampo, who would turn 80 next year, are the only surviving world champions from the time of the legendary Gabriel “Flash” Elorde alongside the now 76-year-old Erbito Salavarria, the WBA/WBC and lineal flyweight king from Manila.

He said Edna asked if he could connect her with Senator Manny Pacquiao, the world’s only eight-division champion, but “I could not give her any assurance because I have no friendly contacts with Manny.”

He said Pacquiao, the first world boxing champion to serve in the Senate, can leave boxers like him a legacy if he pushes and succeeds in convincing his fellow lawmakers to approve a pension bill for the country’s boxing heroes.

Barrientos, who took the WBC super featherweight crown in 1969 after a unanimous decision win against American Ruben Navarro before the home crowd at the Araneta Coliseum, said he and the rest of Philippine boxing’s elite class have long been waiting for a pension bill for former boxing champions and titleholders to get approved by Congress.

Their numbers, he estimated, have dwindled to less than 20. 

When he attended the last “Banquet of Champions,” a tribute party initiated by the Elordes for boxers like him, Barrientos said he saw the poor state of his boxing peers.

“Some were zombie-like – they could barely walk,” Barrientos said.

Barrientos said the proposed pension for boxing champions has been discussed since the time of Pancho Villa, the first Asian and Filipino to win a world championship in 1923, up to the Elorde, and now, the Pacquiao eras.

Once, he said, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, told him that the pension bill has been discussed but it never progressed until now.

For a fighter like him who started with a paltry P10-prize as an amateur and a P5,000-purse when he won the world title, Barrientos said today’s champions like Pacquiao were “very lucky” given their astronomical pays and even pay-per-view sales.

“This is not just for us who only have little time left in this world but for boxing’s future generations,” Barrientos said.

According to Barrientos, boxing champions in other countries are given houses and lots, allowances, and even scholarships for their children by their governments.

Retired Cebuano fighter Gerry Peñalosa, a two-weight division world champion, said the pension bill, revived by Pacquiao, was a welcome development.

“It’s not easy but possible. It will be a big help for us,” said Peñalosa.

Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Representative Rufus Rodriguez said he would work for a counterpart bill in the House of Representatives.

“I have always admired our boxing legends like Barrientos. I was in high school when he became champion. I will do my best to work on a law that would give them the benefits they deserve from a grateful nation,” Rodriguez said.

But such a proposal would likely see rough sailing in Congress, said northern Mindanao-based professional boxing promoter and lawyer Carlo Antonio Almirante.

Almirante said it would be difficult to justify the proposal that raises too many questions on the nature of professional boxing.

First, he said, there were other sports disciplines too, and a law that would give only boxers pensions would be selective.

Second, he said, professional boxers fight and reap monetary rewards aside from honor.

“While both amateurs and professionals represent our country, amateurs play for the game not for the pay. Mostly, the professionals are forced to fight for the money. Ask Senator Pacquiao why he is still fighting even at his age. It’s because the pay is worth it,” Almirante said. – Rappler.com