Shunning fanfare for charity, the Philippine Sports Commission, on January 24, 2020 —30 years after the Eighth Congress created and established Republic Act No. 6847 known as the PSC Act — celebrated three decades of existence by donating its anniversary budget to victims of the Taal Volcano explosion a week earlier, little knowing that a deadly global crisis that would require more than just foregoing party funds was about to break out less than eight weeks later.
The first case of coronavirus infection was still a blip in the radar of national consciousness at the time, and the country was still in euphoria after national athletes harvested 149 gold medals, 116 silvers and 118 bronzes in capturing the overall title in the 30th Southeast Asian Games on home ground in December 2019, surpassing the 112 golds, 85 silvers and 92 bronzes accomplishment of their champion predecessors during the 23rd SEAG which Manila hosted.
“We were all hoping and praying for this, but it is still a sweet surprise now that it is actually happening. I am so proud of our athletes. All of them deserve our respect and love,” PSC chairman William ‘Butch’ Ramirez, one of eight men to hold the position and the only one to be appointed twice, said back then.
“This is a result of all the sacrifice and hard work of everyone who pushed for chances at victory. This victory is very sweet given the many difficulties we had to face. This win proves that we can achieve a lot when we come together united as one team.”
‘Achieve a lot when we come together united,’ said Ramirez, clearly with an eye on an even bigger, much larger price — a first-ever Olympic gold medal in the Tokyo Summer Games in July that year.
Then came COVID-19 in all its vicious form and deadly consequence, prompting a total lockdown in Luzon — labeled as Enhanced Community Quarantine — in mid-March. Everything then came to a grinding standstill, not just in the sporting field but in all aspects of life as the pandemic gradually spread its vile reach and began claiming lives worldwide.
The death knell to global sports for 2020 came on March 24 when International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to postpone the Tokyo Olympics for July 2021.
That was the final straw.
And with that decision came crashing down — for last year — the dreams of four Olympic-bound Filipino athletes — gymnast Carlos Yulo, pole vaulter EJ Obiena and boxers Eumir Felix Marcial and Irish Magno — along with a handful more looking to make the grade via a number of Olympic qualifiers, all of who were looking to nail that historic first.
A 30th year celebration that would have paid tribute to the previous leaders of the government agency tasked with looking after the welfare of Filipino athletes, especially those in the grassroots level, was thus quietly set aside as three major facilities — the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and Ninoy Aquino Stadium in Manila and the PhilSports Arena in Pasig — were made available for the care of patients with mild symptoms of the viral disease.
Much of the the PSC’’s budget was also added to overall government effort to combat COVID-19, resulting in reduced renumeration for coaches, athletes and trainers, which fortunately was ultimately restored by an act of Congress through the intercession of Rep. Bambol Tolentino, president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.
Today, the PSC will be celebrating 31 years of fulfilling its mandate, and the words of Ramirez, who was first appointed to the post in 2005 and again in 2016, would once more ring true from last year:
“We look back at the 30 years of the PSC and give a nod of appreciation to these leaders who charted the course of our agency at one point in time,” Ramirez said.
Those leaders would be: founding chairman Cecil Hechanova (1990-1992), Aparicio Mequi (1992-1993), Mel Lopez (1993-1996), Philip Ella Juico (1996-1998), Carlos Tuazon (1998-2001), Eric Buhain (2001-2005), William Ramirez (2005-2009), Harry Angping (2009-2010) and Richie Garcia (2010-2016).
The recent success of the experimental Philippine Basketball Association bubble in Clark, Pampanga — patterned after the National Basketball Association — has opened doors and encouraged confidence for more local sports to undergo similar training setups, notably boxing, taekwondo and karate, which sent its top athletes to resume workouts at Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.
Others are expected to follow, signalling a cautious venture into the outside world via sanitized and secure environments that have complied with strict safety and health protocols — trademarks of Philippine sports’ slow but steady emergence from the 10-month Dark Ages that partially covered the PSC’s 30th year.
The man sitting at the helm sees a silver lining ahead on the PSC’s 31st anniversary.
“We always see a medal as the zenith of achievement in sports. But I always say that equally as important are the values and character that sports builds in each of us, Ramirez said.
“We are are a cluster of 7000 islands, 80 tribes and 100 million people. We are a people scattered all over the world. We are not the richest country. But we have proved time and again that once we unite and work as one, nothing is impossible.”
And to both the national athletes and PSC employees, he has this to say on today’s memorable if somber occasion:
“Do your best (athletes), set your sights on winning but do not miss out on the other learnings sports will teach you along the way. A championship, a podium finish is a big bonus to you as an athlete and to us as a people. But the memories, experiences and lessons which mold us into better versions of ourselves are the main winnings in this.”
“(Employees) keep striving. They say we have a thankless job. For me, this is a matter of perspective. Pag nanalo ang mga inaalagaan nating atleta, pag napabuti ang buhay ng mga bata na naturuan natin sa mga proyekto natin, that is more than just a thank you. That is an acheivement.”
Considering what the world had gone through last year — and continues to undergo, celebrating 31 years couldn’t be more meaningful and gratifying for the Philippine Sports Commission.
Tokyo Olympics or not.