MANILA — For the Philippines, boxer Manny Pacquiao is more than a sports champion. His fans, the media and politicians see him as nothing less than a national hero whose feats can lift the nation.
"The hopes of an entire country are riding on me. That is why I cannot let myself fall," Pacquiao says in one television advertisment.
It is a heavy message for a shampoo commercial but it is one that many Filipinos have taken to heart as they cheer Pacquiao on in his improbable career that has seen him rise from deep poverty to six-time world champion.
"There is a great responsibility on his shoulders because his victories are the victories of all of us and his loss would be the loss for all of us," Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said when he awarded Pacquiao an "outstanding achievement" medal recently for his feats in the ring.
He lauded the 31-year-old for inspiring the 92 million people of this impoverished Southeast Asian nation.
Teodoro also referred to much-publicised security reports that rebel attacks and crime went down during Pacquiao's fights as guerrillas and criminals wanted to follow his fate on radio or television.
Both Pacquiao and the nation's faith will again be put to the test on November 14 when he faces hard-hitting World Boxing Organisation champ Miguel Cotto in a welterweight title fight in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao has a record of 49 victories with only three defeats. He has won 27 times by knockout to now be widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
But the Philippines has produced many world-class boxing champs, such as Flash Elorde and Gerry Penalosa, and the adoration bestowed on Pacquiao is unprecedented.
"People just swarm (Pacquiao) to get a touch or a look. His countrymen love him," his American trainer, Freddie Roach, told reporters recently.
Pacquiao has parlayed his fame well, starring in two TV series and a movie, and appearing as a celebrity endorser for products ranging from luxury watches to milk and health drinks.
He is currently listed by Forbes magazine as the world's sixth highest-paid athlete, earning 40 million dollars in prizemoney, endorsements and business ventures for the 12 months beginning in June last year.
Even his mother, Dionisia Pacquiao, has benefitted from his celebrity status, becoming a television comedy star in her own right.
The concept of a sportsman becoming a marketing phenomenon is new to the Philippines, according to David Guerrero, chairman of BBDO Guerrero/Proximity Philippines, one of the country's leading advertising agencies.
"There are very few sports endorsers in this country compared to overseas where you have guys like Tiger Woods and David Beckham. The bulk of celebrity product endorsers here are from show business," he told AFP.
"It has taken someone like Manny to break through from a sports star to a mainstream celebrity."
Bill Velasco, host of "Hardball", the country's leading TV sports talk show, said Pacquiao's fame was partly due to his accomplishments.
"(It's) for the sheer volume of titles he has won. He is the first Asian to win four or more titles," Velasco said, but he added the sport of boxing itself was also an important factor.
"He has made good in a tough field that does not require technology, does not require schooling and does not require too much expenditure. It is basically his physical body. It is very primal, it strikes a chord with the Filipino.
"Additionally, he came along at a very good time. He came along when the economy was down, people were looking for a hero, and he won a world title, and he has been undefeated for four years."
Importantly, Pacquiao is also widely seen as a genuinely nice man who cares about others.
"He says all the right things, he does the right things, he does charity work, he does good things for his hometown. He plays his cards well, he is subtle in the way he handles things, He is very savvy," Velasco said.
Pacquiao plans to run for a seat in the nation's parliament in next year's elections, representing a district where he comes from in the southern Philippines.
This is one area where Pacquiao has failed before. Despite his widespread popularity, he lost to a veteran politician in his first bid for Congress in 2007.
"During the last election campaign, people were afraid that if he does win, he may not box anymore. That is the fear of most people," explained Velasco.