MANILA (AFP) - Boxing hero Manny Pacquiao lifted the spirits of Philippine troops in a visit on Saturday (July 29) to a southern city where soldiers have been battling pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants for over two months.
The boxer-turned-senator, dressed in a military camouflage uniform, joked that he would join the fight in the city of Marawi where militants have been on a rampage, holding hostages and burning buildings while flying the black ISIS flag.
"You are the real heroes, not Manny Pacquiao. I am just a boxer but you give your lives for our country," he told soldiers in a camp in Marawi City.
"Hopefully, I can come back here and greet you again when the fighting is done and if it isn't finished when I come back, then I will be the one who will go over there," said Pacquiao, referring to a battleground outside the camp where gunshots and explosions could be heard.
The fighting in the Mindanao region has claimed 630 lives, including 471 militants, 45 civilians and 114 government troops, the military has said.
Pacquiao, who was made a lieutenant colonel in the military reserves in recognition of his boxing achievements, remains a hugely popular figure in the Philippines.
He rose from poverty to become a millionaire world boxing champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, using his celebrity status as a springboard to get elected to the powerful Philippine senate.
But Pacquiao's star has dimmed in recent years, with the 38-year-old fighter losing his world welterweight title to Australian Jeff Horn in a major upset last month.