Looking for Manny Pacquiao (Part I)

…And finding a close-knit, supportive family. The author (center, in black) with,  from left, Jose Desembrana, neighbor Alice Roldan,  Lilly Espra, Olive and Mark Avenidas. TFLA Photo by Dante Ochoa

…And finding a close-knit, supportive family. The author (center, in black) with, from left, Jose Desembrana, neighbor Alice Roldan, Lilly Espra, Olive and Mark Avenidas. TFLA Photo by Dante Ochoa

By Cecile Caguingin Ochoa
TFLA Editor

A quiet sunny Friday seemed to be the perfect day to explore some “hidden treasures” of Los Angeles, in its quaint villages amidst tourist destinations Larchmont Village and Hancock Park. We decided it’s the perfect time to try to find the iconic Manny Pacquiao, now in town preparing for the much-awaited fight with Floyd Mayweather.

We’ve heard so much about Manny Pacquiao’s three million dollar home from our friend Alice Roldan, a former pharmacist from USC who, with her husband lawyer Val Roldan from the University of the Philippines lives in retirement in their house of some 40 years, in the same neighborhood as Manny’s. She was the best lead we have.

But first, we needed to find Alice to help us get to the famous residence but she was not at her house. We finally tracked her at the St. Basil’s Church just after her first Friday noon mass ended, picked her up and after a quick lunch, we were off to the ‘hood of the world champion.

Plymouth Boulevard is lined with vintage California bungalows and newer lavish-looking residences. In 2013 the Pacquiao property was being offered by realtors at $2.7 million. Comparable homes in the area were selling anywhere from $2.7 to $3.4 million. We parked our car outside of Manny’s elegant two story-home enclosed by a grey fence. The “For Sale Sign” that his neighbors and the curious reportedly have seen displayed on and off the last two years was nowhere to be seen. It was unexpectedly quiet with nobody around, just us outside the house on the street.

A man in bright orange Lacoste shirt, who turned out to be Mark Avenidas, stepped out from the front yard, as we’re taking pictures and admiring Pacquiao’s black Ferrari Italia – market-priced at $225,000 — in the driveway. He pleasantly asked if he could be of help to the “Looky-Lou’s” (not his words). He is Manny Pacquiao’s uncle and the designated household manager.

“I take care of the house and the residents here,” he told us.

We introduced ourselves as writers for TheFilAmLosAngeles.com and asked about Manny. Alice introduced herself as a neighbor. Mark told us that we just missed Manny and his entourage by 30 minutes and that he’s by that time training at the Wild Card gym. We then asked if we can get inside to get some of the household reactions on the upcoming fight and after hesitating, Mark led us in “for maybe five minutes.”

A petite lady sporting an attractive checkered red top and plain pants welcomed and greeted us warmly with hugs like long-time friends and graciously posed for photos with her.

She’s Lilly Espra, with the chiseled features of Mommy Dionisia, a first cousin (“our mothers are sisters”) and with the same exuberance and cheerful persona, talked with us.

Lilly invited us to have a seat in the large living room and conversed about Manny and his family in LA. Lilly has lived in the Plymouth home since 2011.

“I’m Manny’s ‘nanay’ here when he is around. Mommy Dionisia usually stays in a hotel in town while Jinkee and kids remain with Manny in the house until the fight and a few days after.

“We can only apologize profusely to the neighbors when Manny and his entourage are here, as it gets very loud,” says Lilly. “Napa-pulis na kami but people follow him around and hang out in the neighborhood; eventually the neighbors have become his fans too.

“The family really wants him to retire while he still has his health; we cannot bear to see him receive those blows. Sana tama na ‘yan, anak,” Lilly said she would plead with him after each fight. “Napakabait nyang bata kaya alam namin gina-guide siya ni Lord. In the long run, of course, it will be his decision; he knows his body.”

Manny on religion: Lilly told TheFILAMLA.com that Manny has retained his robust spiritual belief and encourages every one in his family and entourage to read the bible each and every day. “It doesn’t matter that Manny has embraced an ecumenical Christian religion in favor of the family’s Roman Catholic upbringing. He believes that religion is simply an association and that we’re all one people united in prayers to one God.”

Portrait of Pacquiao by the stairwell leading to the second floor. Photos by Cecile Ochoa

Portrait of Pacquiao by the stairwell leading to the second floor. Photos by Cecile Ochoa

In the sprawling dining area, as the family prepares for dinner.

In the sprawling dining area, as the family prepares for dinner.

On politics: “Gusto niya talagang tulungan ang sambayanan; we expect him to continue to be active in politics.”

What’s a normal day for Manny during this lengthy pre-fight training in L.A.?

Said Lilly: His morning starts at 5 or 6, heading either for the Griffith Park, a few miles away or in another nearby L.A. Park. A big crowd follows him as he does his routine, “daming sumusunod sa kalye.” He goes to the Wild Card Gym on Vine near Hollywood or to another favorite gym nearby.

His regular food is a fairly simple menu: alternating nilagang baka, manok and fish dishes. He doesn’t drink coffee.

In about a half an hour visit with the Pacquiao L.A. household we quickly noticed a cohesive, spontaneous spirit among those who live there. They were all relaxed and assured, with cheerful dispositions. I felt this genuine hospitality and kindness reflect on the positive character of the owner.

Jose Desembrana who lives in San Gabriel describes himself amusingly as someone who serves the household “part-time, only 12 hours a day,” maintaining a neat surrounding for the prize fighter, his family and entourage.” Inside, the expensive appointments are highlighted by large photos of the fighter and those of his beautiful family. Our publisher thinks Jinkee looks like the beautiful Demi Moore in her portrait. On the foyer of the second floor, religious art work immediately meets one’s gaze.

Mark, the pugilist’s doting uncle is an engineer by training, who, with his wife Olive, has both put aside his personal career to be with Manny. He said he and his group will be in Las Vegas a week before the fight on May 2, to show their support. He has reserved a room at the Strip for $375 a night with his own funds as he didn’t want to burden his nephew with any more expenses.

“Tickets are now running something like $4,000 in the nosebleed section, yung naka sandal ka na sa pader sa pinakamataas,” he laughed. “We don’t have to be inside the stadium, just be around as a solid group and let him feel our presence. This event is managed by Mayweather promotions and we heard they have reserved hundreds of seats for his fans only, presumably to dominate stadium cheering for Mayweather.”

“But Manny is admired worldwide — by not only Filipinos, but Japanese, Americans, Koreans, Hispanics boxing fans and they will be representing Manny’s fans inside the stadium rooting for him on May 2,” said Desembrana. On this cue, Lilly, the auntie, led half a dozen of us gathered in the living room with a cheer: “Manny! Manny! Manny!”

The relatives are confident Manny will win: “I project it will be around the 8th round,” said the uncle.

Time flew fast and soon we were heading for the Wild Card gym lest we miss the opportunity of the day to see one of the greatest prizefighters of all time. We were determined to find Manny before the day is over.

Next: Catching up with Manny by Dante D. Ochoa

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