Strong sports under Duterte

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

It looks like Philippine sports will experience a resurgence under the administration of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte, from top to bottom, his government will be filled with sportsmen and women, from his campaign team to potential appointees and even those who have coincidentally been elected into office along with early, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) has expressed optimism that it will have a good working relationship with Pres. Duterte, while the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and Games and Amusements Board (GAB), composed of presidential appointees of the current dispensation, will be a clean slate, as they tender their courtesy resignations when the new regime assumes office on July 1.

Duterte’s team alone is bursting with sportsmen. Former North Cotabato governor, boxing promoter and sports writer Manny Piñol was one of the pillars of the campaign, and has been called by other sportsmen a “kingmaker”, while former PSC chair Butch Ramirez, a long-time head of sports in Davao City, was the silent workhorse who prepared campaign sorties and strategies as assistant campaign manager. Other sportsmen with a range as diverse as a former chief executive, golf patrons, all the way down to past Ateneo Blue Eagles like Jobe Nkemakolam (a Duterte congressional candidate) each contributed mightily to the campaign in various capacities. And of course, Duterte’s running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is well known as a basketball enthusiast, and has supported other sports such as arnis at various stages of his political career. As you can see, his government will be loaded with heavy hitters from all fields of sports.

Throughout his decades-long tenure as an official of Davao, Mayor Duterte has not only supported and promoted sports, but a healthy lifestyle in general. His famous no-smoking policy within city limits has not only made Davaoeños’ lungs cleaner (as does his firecracker ban), but has raised much-needed funding for cancer patients. In addition, his curfews help the citizenry maintain decent sleeping hours. Imagine implementing similar policies nationwide. This writer, for one, agrees with the idea of a 10 p.m. curfew for unaccompanied minors and a 1 a.m. limit on alcohol consumption. We have all underestimated the devastating effect that lack of sleep has had on hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of our countrymen in the BPO industry, entertainment industry, medical field and other jobs that require them to be up all night. A curfew would be a great start to better sleeping habits.

Hopefully, the executive branch will not be working alone. At least six of the 12 incoming senators have a strong sports bent. To begin with, former Technical Skills Development Authority (TESDA) head Joel Villanueva played basketball for University of Santo Tomas, and once told this writer he hoped that TESDA would someday have sports courses added to its more than 300 syllabi for professionals and overseas Filipino workers (OFW). Villanueva’s record of professionalism and compassion landed him second-place in the recent Senate race. Right behind Villanueva in the tally is returning Sen. Tito Sotto, who was a champion bowler and manager of the Philippine bowling team for many years until he assumed higher office after being vice-mayor of Quezon City. 

Former tourism secretary and Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) chair Richard Gordon was a cheerleader in college, and as tourism head, first saw the potential of sports tourism. His programs helped elevate the Philippines into one of the top diving destinations in the world, second only to Brazil. Finishing sixth in the voting just behind Gordon is arnis patron Miguel Zubiri. Zubiri spent nine years as a congressman and senator refining and pushing the Arnis Law which was enacted by Pres. Gloria Arroyo at the end of 2010. The law rightfully made arnis the official sport and martial art of the country, and required that it be taught in all schools nationwide. One provision even mandates the changing of the PSC logo to symbolize arnis. 

Of course, finishing higher than previous surveys indicated was boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. The first-time senator will be an important voice in the defense of the rights of athletes, and is known to back up his projects with his own resources. Given the proper legislation to back, Pacquiao has the potential to make a difference in the sporting landscape of the Philippines. Meanwhile, former Akbayan representative and Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) director Risa Hontiveros vaulted into the upper chamber on her third attempt. This early, Hontiveros has already made it known that one of her tracks will be stronger sports legislature, which makes sense. A healthier country will lessen the government’s financial burden in providing health care and health insurance, especially as diet and lifestyle choices have made a significant portion of the population susceptible to illnesses like diabetes. 

In the Lower House, one of the big stories is the 1PACMAN partylist, represented by GlobalPort owner and versatile sportsman Mikee Romero. With a mission to give back to sports, the champion polo player and basketball enthusiast campaigned on an irresistible platform of sports and job generation, and who can say no to that? With a strong support system from the basketball community and other sports, Romero will be a major contributor to the improvement of sports programs and facilities in the next few years. Also in Congress, former senator Pia Cayetano, herself an athlete, has been asked to join the Duterte transition team to prepare and recruit the best possible minds for the new administration. A staunch advocate of women’s rights, Cayetano’s challenge is to give women more say in all levels of government. That will definitely include women’s sports, a cause close to her heart. And she will definitely have the support of her brother in the Senate for the next three years.

Even at the local level, there are literally dozens of former basketball players, referees and other sports officials who have been elected mayor, vice-mayor and councilor all over the country, most notably in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. With all of these sportsmen in positions of influence, we may soon see a vast improvement in grassroots sports development throughout the nation. Of course, politics will still rear its ugly head and horse-trading will still be the norm, and often sports is not a priority, but with a forceful leader and the guidance of good men in Malacañang, one can’t help but be optimistic.

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