POC, PSC pursue option on Clark site

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – PSC chairman Richie Garcia said the other day he’s inclined to pursue the option of building a 50-hectare training center at the Clark Freeport in Pampanga than alternatives in Tagaytay and Tanauan but the site will depend on the conditions of lease.

Garcia disclosed that a meeting has been set by the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) to discuss the possibility of a training hub with PSC and POC officials on Wednesday. Talks were previously stalled when CIAC raised its asking rental from a token sum of P150,000 to P150,000 per hectare or P7.5 Million a year.

“This isn’t a money-making project,” said Garcia. “We’ll treat it as an expense. We don’t intend to hold events and there won’t be a gallery for spectators in the gyms. The training hub will be strictly for athletes and our plan is to pattern it after the Olympic center in San Diego. The venue for basketball will be like a bare warehouse with only a court. There will be a state-of-the-art gym to be shared by athletes from different sports. We also intend to build an entertainment area for the athletes’ recreation.”

Garcia said it’s time to rescue the elite athletes from the pollution of Metro Manila. “Clark is ideal because there is a nearby international airport so it’s convenient for foreign athletes and coaches to visit,” he continued. “There’s no traffic to contend with at Clark. We’ve been offered a 10 to 15-hectare property in Tanauan, Batangas and there’s also another proposed site in Tagaytay. We prefer Clark because the environment is conducive to focused training.”

Garcia said while the direction is to move out of Metro Manila, the 81-year-old Rizal Memorial Sports Complex will undergo major repairs. “When it rains hard, Rizal floods,” he said. “The Ninoy Aquino Sports Center has gone underwater and we’ve changed the hardcourt twice. It cost us P10 Million for every change. We’re now in the process of replacing the damaged court with a portable version that can be dismantled and installed in two hours. So when it rains, we can just pack up the court. We’re also replacing the grass on the football field with an artificial turf. It will save a lot of time and money as we won’t need to water the grass. Also, if grass is underwater for two days, it won’t be the same again when dry.”

Garcia said the Philippines has fallen behind in the race for supremacy at the Southeast Asian Games because of poor training facilities. “It’s no wonder we’re now sixth or seventh in our region,” he said. “We’re also sixth or seventh in terms of our budget for sports training. Last year, our budget was about P800 Million while Thailand’s was the equivalent of P8 Billion. Even a small island like Singapore with just a few athletes compared to ours had a budget of P2 Billion. Honestly, I envy the training centers of our neighboring countries.”

Garcia said he recently attended a Senate hearing to present his budget for the PSC. The presentation took only 10 minutes with Sen. Tito Sotto raising points of clarification. A budget of over P1 Billion was approved. The amount of P189 Million will come from the General Appropriations and the PCSO will contribute $220 Million from horseracing taxes. PAGCOR will raise its monthly allocation from P50 Million a month to P80 to 85 Million with the expectation of an increase in casino income. Garcia said under the law, PAGCOR is mandated to set aside 5% of its income for the PSC but it is ignored.

“I don’t think the law can be overruled by an Executive Order but unfortunately, during the Ramos Administration, that’s exactly what the government did,” said Garcia. “Instead of 5%, PAGCOR remits only about 2 1/2%. From our annual budget, 60% goes to elite athletes for their allowance and training. Last year, we got P186 Million from the General Appropriations. There is only a P3 Million increase for this year.”

Garcia said he won’t be PSC chairman anymore if and when the training center is built and finished. “This is the last mile for me,” he said. “My hope is we finally get the training center done. We’ve got the plans. It won’t happen during my term which expires when President Aquino steps down in July. I feel the need and it’s urgent that we start work on the training center right away. But first, we’ve got to decide on where to put it up.”

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