By Nick Giongco
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing top wrestler Jason Balabal from realizing his wish of becoming a member of the Philippine Navy’s version of the US Navy SEALs.
Headquartered at Sangley Point in Cavite City since March, Balabal, who holds the rank of Senior Naval Officer 1, is in the thick of training for a spot in the elite roster of the Naval Special Operations Group (NAVSOG).
So far, Balabal has conquered the six and eight-kilometer swim from the waters of Manila Bay and is on the cusp of pulling off the ultimate test on water: making the grade for the 14-kilometer swim from Roxas Boulevard to Sangley Point.
Balabal, who placed second in the 87 kg event during the 30th Southeast Asian Games, could have been on the field as part of the government’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak but he opted to remain inside the camp.
“Here, I have a chance to stay active and fit,” said the 33-year-old from Ifugao, a two-time SEAG gold medalist (2009 in Laos and 2011 in Indonesia).
Balabal wasn’t avoiding getting deployed elsewhere but staying should enable him to expedite his breaking into the league of a chosen few that specializes in counter-terrorism and unconventional warfare.
“We are also being taught how to handle the pandemic in school,” said Balabal, who wore a traditional ‘bahag’ when he served as the flag-carrier during the 2013 SEAG in Myanmar.
Balabal is just one of 12 members of the national team that are on duty, said Wresting Association of the Philippines president Alvin Aguilar, who could not help but heap praises on the bunch that he labels as “modern-day heroes.”
“My wish is for all of them to be safe and we support them all the way,” said Aguilar, a proponent of mix martial arts in the country.
Also on the frontline are Alvin Lobreguito of the Philippine Air Force, Ronil Tubog of the Philippine Army, Jefferson Manatad of the Navy, Johnny Morte of the Navy, Grace Loberanes of the Navy, Margarito Angana of the Air Force, Joseph Angana of the Air Force, Noemi Tener of the Air Force, Michael Vijay of the Army, Jimmy Angana of the Air Force, and Noel Norada of the Army, who claimed gold in the last SEAG.
Lobreguito, who has a rank of Airman Second Class, found himself being stationed within the familiar confines of the Ninoy Aquino Stadium (NAS), a venue inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex that has been turned into a makeshift hospital.
“I have been here the last week and currently serving two four-hour shifts daily,” said Lobreguito, who stays in a temporary barracks located at the adjacent bowling center.
Lobreguito, a silver medalist in the 30th SEAG, said the NAS has yet reach its capacity of 110 patients.
“We have 40 patients and the NAS has so far sent home six (recovered) patients,” he said, sounding relieved that no deaths have been recorded thus far in the facility.
Lobreguito admitted being worried the first time he was asked to man the NAS but later realized that it was his utmost duty to serve the country.
“You are being confronted by an invisible enemy but we are prepared,” he said.
Here’s a snappy salute to the men and women of Philippine wrestling.