FVR’s insights

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Earlier this week, former President Fidel Ramos was asked to comment on the recent behavior of two presidential candidates. The occasion was the regular Pandesal Forum at the Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City. But what received almost no mention was the general’s point of view on how sports has gone since his time in office from the mid- to late 1990’s. This writer asked the well-traveled former Chief Executive on why sports seems to be treated as a luxury or low priority in the Philippines.

“Never forget that fitness in sports is proof of a country’s, a nation’s, a people’s competitiveness,” Ramos began eloquently. “And look at how hard some little countries try so hard to be up there in global competitiveness in sports. Take Cuba. Take Jamaica. Take any of the smaller countries that have won Olympic medals and all kinds of honors. I’m not talking about the big boys like China, the US, Russia. Look at the UK. It’s a small country with less people than we have.”

During the Ramos administration, sports had the largest post-Martial Law budget, was part of the national educational program, had the first Philippine Sports Summit, and even commemorated a National Fitness Day. Sadly, not one of those programs exists anymore, and the sports budget fluctuates depending on the whims of Congress.

“I think this has to do with leadership, if I may be so blunt, with due respect to everybody,” the pillar of the People Power revolution continued. “And we must always try to divorce sports from politics. Our local officials, down to the barangay captain, to the kagawad, have a big role to play in competitive sports. Therefore, let us keep local politics out of local sports, and national politics out of national sports.”

During his term, Ramos also pushed for the construction of playing fields in all medium-sized and large barangays. The former Secretary of National Defense envisioned open areas properly seeded with grass, with proper drainage, which could be used for training in virtually any sport. The facility would include an all-weather basketball court and multi-purpose training area, including areas for sports like chess. Ramos added that senior citizens who had deep experience in sports and management would be the local sports supervisors, as it is done in many smaller countries. He complained that too many open properties are being converted into high-rise condominiums. 

Another program that thrived and produced many great athletes during the Ramos tenure was the involvement of the Armed Forces.

“We used to have the AFP Olympics before, when the Philippine Constabulary was the fourth major service before. The competition was so intense, we were even nationally competitive in some sports. What I mean is you can harness the talents of every Filipino up to a certain age for good national or local competitiveness.”

Ramos noted one big factor in the decline of sports was the devolution of sports from the former Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (later Department of Education, Culture and Sports) into simply the Department of Education. Today, sports is primarily under the Philippine Sports Commission, whose chairman only carries the rank of an undersecretary.

“In other words, problems of sports were brought up to Cabinet level, to the attention of the President by the Secretary of DECS,” Ramos explained. “But whatever system that is transparent, honest and not centralized will work. Centralization, where everything happens here – decisions, events, awards – are done here at the NCR, does not work, because we are an archipelago, and you must decentralize. And certain regions in our country are better than others in certain sports, like Panay, Iloilo, Negros, they are better at soccer. The Pangalatoks are better at cycling, because they’re always traveling.”

Leadership, Ramos contends, is not necessarily produced by being educated in the best schools. 

“You know, academic degrees really should not count,” he says. “Because the conventional wisdom is like this: you must make sure that your education goes to your mind and not to your head. In the Philippine context, the most important component of national leadership getting along with the common tao, so that eventually, you can get them together and organize, strengthen and mobilize them to move as one team, even if some were once rivals.”

Ramos also shared two buzzwords his administration team used. For personal character development, it was: caring, sharing and daring. Caring and sharing mean you are generous, helpful, compassionate and even forgiving. But daring is something else. It means to give more than you take. It means to take concerted action to make a difference. And daring also means to sacrifice for the common good. Daring also means to stand up for the younger people, in defense of their future. For collective effort, the buzzword Ramos used was U.S.T.  The first letter stands for Unity of purpose, having only one mission, a better future for everyone. The “S” means solidarity in values: love of God, love of country, love of people, love of the environment, love of time. Ramos had the environmental aspect added to the “Panatang Makabayan” by Executive Order. The last letter, “T” stands for teamwork in community development and nation-building. Ramos rued that the Philippines is ranked a lowly 117th in the global Human Development Index, when the country was once in the top half of the ratings. Ramos concluded by saying that having a strong sports development program has so many palpable benefits that will inevitably elevate the Philippines to its rightful place among the great countries of the world.

“It means a place of dignity, respect, admiration even, in the community of nations.”

Well said, President Ramos. Well said.

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