Is RA Act 9064 discriminatory?

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson -
When Republic Act 9064 was signed into law by President Arroyo in April 2001, there was much celebration among Filipino athletes. Finally, the government recognized the importance of providing for the welfare of national athletes, coaches and trainers who bring honor to the country by winning in international competitions.

The scope of the law, however, is limited. It defines the competitions under review as the Olympics, quadrennial World Championships, the Asian Games and the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. That means no recognition for annual or biennial events such as the Bowling World Cup and the World Pool Championships, which are both yearly jousts.

RA 9064 also rules out recognition for athletes who earn prize money. In effect, the coverage is strictly for athletes who compete under the aegis of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

The cash incentives are generous. A P5 Million reward awaits the first Filipino Olympic gold medallist. Other perks include discounts in certain establishments, free medical consultations, a social security plan, priority in livelihood programs undertaken by the government, priority in national housing programs, scholarship benefits, a retirement package and a lump sum of P30,000 for the surviving family in case of death.

Last year, the PSC and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) staged a grand affair to formalize the turnover of cash incentives to 213 qualified Filipino athletes.

But while RA 9064 is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it could stand some improvement.

For instance, why discriminate against athletes who excel in competitions other than quadrennial events or the SEA Games? Surely, four-time World Cup bowling champion Paeng Nepomuceno deserves recognition, too, for his unprecedented feat. What about billiards legend Efren (Bata) Reyes? In 1999, Reyes topped the prestigious World Pool Championships in Cardiff and did the country proud. Other national athletes who don’t qualify for recognition despite reaping international honors are golfer Dorothy Delasin, boxer Manny Pacquiao and chess wizard Eugene Torre.

Nepomuceno has been cited twice in the Guinness Book of World Records for capturing four World Cups in three different decades and being the youngest World Cup champion ever. He has brought honor to the country repeatedly and is widely considered the Philippines’ greatest athlete ever. Yet, under RA 9064, he is excluded from receiving incentives and benefits as a four-time World Cup champion because the event is an annual, not a quadrennial, competition.

Of course, Nepomuceno qualifies for RA 9064 recognition by virtue of his gold at the last Asian Games. But in the order of importance, RA 9064 places more value to a World Championship than a gold in the Asian Games. Why should Nepomuceno be penalized because the World Cup is a yearly, not a quadrennial, event?

Last year, Puyat Sports–headed by Jose (Popit) Puyat–submitted a proposal addressing the omissions in RA 9064 to Rep. Monico Puentevella during a hearing of the House Committee on Sports and Youth Development.

The proposal provides incentives for Filipino champion athletes not covered by RA 9064 but are revered as national heroes just the same. Athletes who earn a purse of over $100,000 for a championship will not be covered for obvious reasons.

"There should be no discrimination in sports," stressed Puyat Sports’ position paper. "Fairness and equality must be

applied to our deserving athletes whose victories in annual and biennial World and Asian sports championships inspire and unify our people no less than medals won in quadrennial competitions."

Nepomuceno’s 75-year-old father and coach Angel said Filipino athletes who compete in events ignored by RA 9064 are usually not supported by the PSC. They’re supported by their families or sponsors from the private sector. "All the more," noted Angel, "that government should provide incentives for them because they were not supported by government in the first place but made us all proud with their achievements."

The proposal includes professional world boxing champions who do not receive more than $100,000 as a purse.

In the same proposal, Puyat Sports is batting for tax exemption on the use of sports facilities by the public.

"If there is no VAT (value added tax) on hospital and school bills, why is there a VAT for the use of sports facilities?" wondered Paeng’s father. "Taxes on the use of sports facilities are a disincentive and a barrier to the Filipino people’s participation in sports. If we had to pay VAT during Paeng’s early years of bowling, maybe he wouldn’t have matured to become a world champion. A property owner would be encouraged to build a sports facility with the tax exemption instead of a condo. Sports means a lot to our country. It is a source of pride and it also steers the youth away from drugs."

Puyat Sports said the VAT exemption will not apply to facilities being rented for commercial purposes, meaning admission tickets are for sale.

"Progressive countries have a good appreciation of the fact that sports is beneficial," added Puyat Sports. "They do not tax but rather encourage participation in sports by the people and eagerly support major sports activities and events."

To his knowledge, Paeng’s father said the proposal has not been written up as a bill.

"There is urgency in this matter," said the elder Nepomuceno. "Not just because my son is a prospective beneficiary but because now more than ever in our history, we need heroes to lift our spirits. The proposal is noteworthy. It gives due recognition to our sports heroes and provides for their future. My only hope is that Congress gives priority to the proposal because after all, sports should be a national priority."

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