MANILA, May 8 – Philippine boxing champ Manny Pacquiao defied his government and flew home to a hero's welcome Friday despite appeals for him to postpone his trip over fears he could help spread swine flu.Followed by large crowds of fans, Pacquiao motored to a central Manila Roman Catholic church to pray and said he would be singing at a free concert Friday after arriving from Los Angeles at dawn.
Airport authorities set up a cordon to keep the six-time world champion — widely considered the sport’s best fighter, pound-for-pound — and his entourage at a distance from the press and the public amid fears over the potential spread of the influenza A(H1N1) virus.
But well-wishers and reporters broke through to get close to the boxer, who is considered a national hero here.
The large Pacquiao party cleared the airport’s thermal-imaging scanners with no signs of fevers, but the health department said this did not necessarily mean they were free from the virus since its incubation period took between five and seven days.
Pacquiao later said in an interview on local radio that a planned victory parade around Manila for him "has been postponed to some other date" due to "many complications."
But he added: "At 4:00pm I will be singing at a free concert."
President Gloria Arroyo’s government had urged him to delay his return to Tuesday out of concern that the large crowds that he habitually attracts could help spread the virus.
The Philippines has so far remained free of the virus that has killed more than 40 people and infected more than 2,300 others, but the government, acting on World Health Organisation advice, futilely sought a delay in Pacquiao’s homecoming.
Health Undersecretary Mario Villaverde expressed regret Friday that Pacquiao had refused to heed the government’s request.
If anyone in the Pacquiao entourage had contracted the virus "it will be very difficult for us to monitor all the people they have since come into contact with," Villaverde told a news conference.
He said the government is awaiting laboratory results on four people who showed possible symptoms of the flu. Thirteen others had been given the all-clear, he added.
Pacquiao won Hatton’s International Boxing Organisation light-welterweight title in spectacular fashion at the weekend, knocking his opponent out inside two rounds.