Dark Clouds

Lipa City, Batangas May 30, 2015 Dark Clouds Unofficially, the 28th Southeast Asian Games has started with some football games in Singapore. Officially, the biennial multi-sports meet will open on June 5 with 11 countries including our beloved Philippines battling for gold medals and the honor of having the country’s flag raised and national anthem played. In a few days, the bulk of our 466-strong delegation is ready to leave, do battle and win us some golds and pride. In the bottom of our collective hearts, we all wish them the best luck and say a little prayer for their journey. They will need it because the road our athletes will take is treachearous. Believe it or not, our top sports officials say otherwise. Philippine chief of mission Julian Camacho predicted before leaving last week that we will rake in about 50 gold medals. He said his calculations came from the vetting of the national sports associations fielding a team in the SEAG. He counted athletics, basketball, billiards, boxing, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, judo, rowing, sailing, practical shooting, softball, taekwondo, tennis, triathlon and wushu as the sports expected to strike golds. Really? Let’s state some facts here. The last time we won 50 or more golds was when we hosted the SEAG exactly a decade ago and ended up harvesting a 113-84-94 (gold-silver-bronze) haul and clinching the overall title for the first in a long while. It was all downhill from there as we finished sixth in the 2007 edition in Thailand (41-91-96), fifth in 2009 in Laos (38-35-51) and in 2011 in Indonesia (36-56-77) and a catastrophic seventh place in 2013 in Myanmar (29-34-38). For the last five stagings in the decade-long span, we experienced debacle after debacle. The last one in Myanmar was the worst. So what have we done special in the last two years to be suddenly optimistic? The question really is why do we suck in sports when we produced the likes of a Manny Pacquiao? And a world-beater in Wesley So, before he decided to leave us in favor of representing the United States. And a Paeng Nepomuceno. An Efren “Bata” Reyes. A Eugene Torrre. A Lydia de Vega-Mercado. A Caloy Loyzaga. It will take me days to explain everything but I will try to be as concise and simple as possible. The national sports association (NSA) runs the training and does the selection of our athletes. The Philipppine Olympic Committee is the mother organization of all NSAs. The Philippine Sports Commission gives funds to NSAs, which in turn funds the athletes’ training. Whether small or big the fund is, it will be up to the NSAs to use it. Some fail, some succeed. Most are reliant on the PSC money alone while some, like basketball, boxing, taekwondo, football and volleyball among others are self-sufficient and get their own funding from big private corporations. The government can’t do it all. They give what meager money they can give. So we’re lucky some NSAs have made the initiative to get corporate backing. So it all boils down to money. Hard to run when you have no fuel. So we pour in money and we solve part of the problem. Not all though. Some say it’s the culture. Like Pacquiao, we all need to challenge ourselves if we’re an athlete or coach and not be content in what one has done thus far. Some say its our leaders. Heck, us media are to be blamed too for sometimes painting a wrong picture. But let’s get back to the SEAG where I will do my own counting. Centerpiece athletics, thanks to the efforts of track and field chief Popoy Juico and the Philippine Sports Commission’s Fil-Am deluge, they have the ability to win about eight golds. We will lose in all sports but not in men’s basketball because our Gilas Cadet will sweep it. Billiards is also a sure thing but expect some upsets. Boxing should win us some especially our world-class lady pugs. Taekwondo and wushu are traditional goldmines so expect them to win not less than two each. Fencing and cycling will face challenges but should deliver. Softball? We thaught everyone in this region the sport so why can’t win this? The rest? We’re expecting some surprise gold medals. So overall, we’ll be lucky to win 30 to 35. Making the 40-gold plateau will be a big bonus. Finishing fifth isn’t also bad the way our neighbors are improving. Now 50? That’s a stretch. But hey, this is a democractic country. Mr. Camacho and our other officials have the right to say what they want. Let’s just hope they’re not giving us false hopes. Because if you ask me, I see dark clouds looming over the horizon. Behind it, I see a storm coming. And it is named “Debacle.” Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar seag (Photo courtesy of PSC)


Lucky 13

Ateneo Campus
May 28, 2015
Lucky 13

They say 13 is an unlucky number.
I beg to disagree.
You see, our Philippine women’s volleyball team is sending 13 players in the 28th Southeast Asian Games formally unfurling on June 5 in Singapore. It was supposed to be just 12 because that is the maximum number of players each participating country is allowed to field in, technically speaking.
But for some reasons, we’re sending 13.
Officially, our “SEAG 12” are Alyssa Valdez, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Aby Marano, Jaja Santiago, Jia Morado, Rhea Dimaculangan, Maika Ortiz, Gretchel Soltones, Denden Lazaro, Bea de Leon, Rachel Ann Daquis and Dindin Santiago-Manabat.
Of the 12, Gonzaga was named by coach Roger Gorayeb as team captain while Valdez being tasked by the whole nation as its flag-bearer.
The 13th player going to Singapore is Aiza Maizo-Pontillas. She will be there as a reserve, just in case anything unforeseen happens in Singapore like (knock on wood) injuries or a player (knock on wood louder) suddenly decided she is unfit to play, and as an assistant in lieu of Parley Tupaz. Tupaz, of course, was asked by Ateneo coach Tai Bundit, who is the team’s consultant, to stay behind to handle the Ateneo Lady Eagles’ UAAP preparations.
So it’s 13.
I gush by just seeing the names who are representing us.
Valdez. Hammer of the Gods.
Gonzaga. The Quiet Leader.
Marano. The scowling Kapitana.
Santiago. Tree of Life.
Morado. Mama Mia Jia.
Dimaculangan. Air Force One.
Ortiz. Juggernaut.
Soltones. Boom Boom Gretchel.
Lazaro. The Grim Sweeper.
De Leon. Block Party.
Daquis. Pretty-faced assasin.
Manabat. Machine Gun Dindin.
And Maizo-Pontillas. Unheralded.
Now tell me, do you still think 13 is unlucky?

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar


(Photo courtesy of Roger Gorayeb)

Ocean’s Twelve

Blue Eagle Gym
May 22, 2014
Ocean’s Twelve

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”–Lao Tzu.

On this madenning Friday, Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. or LVPI president Joey Romasanta officially announced the 12 ladies who will wear the country’s colors in the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore next month.
They are Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado, Jaja Santiago, Bea de Leon, Gretchel Soltones, Aby Marano, Denden Lazaro, Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, Rachel Ann Daquis, Dindin Santiago-Manabat and Jovelyn Gonzaga. Twelve players who were summoned and responded to the call. Regardless of circumstances. Mindless of the fact that they came from different spectres of the volleyball community. From Ateneo. National University. San Sebastian. La Salle. Santo Tomas. Petron. Air Force. Meralco. Army. Asian Under-23 team. Amihan. LVPI. Philippine Volleyball Federation. Forget about the number of practices they logged or didn’t log. Or some past misunderstandings. Erase that in our collective memory. The important thing is they’re all here. Ready to do battle for flag and country. And, if the stars align, win us a medal. Maybe strike a gold.
So us fans must set aside our differences, focus and pour all our energy on the team because they will need us.
It wasn’t easy though. And it was never meant to be one.
You know their story.
It began with four players stepping on this parquet floor in Diliman in one humid Monday afternoon in early April. Regardless of the ridicule and the threats of persecution and harrassment, they soldiered on.
Others followed.
Now it’s 12.
Twelve brave souls.

“The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.” –Anthony Robbins

It was supposed to be a long blog meant to answer people’s questions. In the end, I decided to do away with it and just focus on making our 12 courageous women feel something good about themselves. Because they deserve it.


(Photo courtesy of hardworking Uragon Meilin Lozada of spin.ph)

Never Say Die

Ynares Center, Antipolo
May 18, 2015
Never Say Die
It is a virtue.
And Barangay Ginebra and its legions of followers will need it especially now that the Kings are off to a painfully bad start after dropping three of their first four games including one in a PBA out-of-town game in Dipolog City where they lost to Blackwater.
Yes, Blackwater.
There was also the matter of benching of Mongolian import Sanchir Tungalag and, more recently, Mark Caguioa. So it is but logical that impatient and restless fans vent their ire on Ginbera’s new coach, Frankie Lim.
But recently though, Lim, who replaced Ato Agustin just a month ago, found a surprising ally in Caguioa, the undisputed leader and heart and soul of the most popular and well-loved team in the land.
And here’s what Caguioa said in his Twitter account, @official MC47:

Tsaka wala syang bine baby. He treats everyone equal. Kaya bgay nalang natin yung tsupon dun sa mga nangsisira sa Ginebra natin. #NSD4life
Trust me when i say the best guy for this team is Coach Frankie so lets all help each other maging isang barangay. Medyo nasanay tyo…
Palit ng palit ng Coach eh. With Coach Frankie i can see a bright future for this team wala syang favoritism and thats what i like abt him..

Caguioa’s words should silence the critics.
I know, I know. We’re all tired of losing. But have you noticed the difference from pre-Lim to present-Lim Ginebra? Can’t you feel how those three defeats this conference made us all feel better than the wins of the past that felt more like setbacks? And the Kings are playing without Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar.
So let us give Lim a slack.
After all, Lim made us feel what we’ve been missing for several years now. The never-say-die Ginebra is back. And that folks gives us more reason to collectively chant our old but tested battlecry: GI-NE-BRA! GI-NEB-RA! GI-NEB-RA!
So be patient.
I promise you it is a virtue.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar


(Photo courtesy of JA Graphics design)


Cuneta Astrodome
May 14, 2015

Let me get this out of the way by saying the title idea came straight from sportswriting genius Marc Anthony Reyes.
So there.
But isn’t the title aptly put?
I mean, why not?
It is actually like an equation. Only in words, not numbers. Petron plus Perfection equals Perfectron. Sounds logical, right? No. It’s perfectly coined. Genius, if you ask me.

And perfection was what Petron Blaze recently achieved after it brought down Shopinas in two games of their Philippine Superliga All-Filipino Conference best-of-three title series that capped an unprecedented sweep. Unprecedented because the Blaze Spikers emerged the first team to ever win a title without dropping a single game in the three-year history of the fast-rising league.
Ironically, Petron’s “lucky” number is 13.

There was nothing perfect though in Petron’s voyage as it has to endure some uncertainties and inner struggles. As Petron coach George Pascua relates, there was a brief stretch when his team didn’t look like the champion that it is and scraped out a pair of five-setters and a couple of four-setters in a four-game stretch. As they say, the biggest enemy sometimes is yourself. But like champions they are, the Blaze Spikers persevered and found a way to submit their inner demons and slay this menace called “overconfidence.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.
So congratulations Petron for bringing home its second Superliga championship.

Oh, did I mention that Petron has Aby Marano, Dindin Santiago-Manabat and Rachel Ann Daquis?


Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar


(Photos courtesy of Prospero Roman, PSL and Volleyball PH Photo Albums)

Filipino Avengers

Blue Eagle Gym
May 12, 2015
Filipino Avengers

Wake me up, I’m dreaming.
Am I staring at Philippine volleyball’s mightiest of heroes, our very own version of The Avengers? Like the superheroes we love to read in comics and watch in the movies, we have our little version of these heroes in our midst. Or at least a speck of it. And Stan Lee should be proud.

I’m referring to our Philippine team doing battle in the 28th SEA Games set June 5-19 in Singapore. Our team are out to face the most feared enemies in our region like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam among others. They’ve all gotten used to kicking our behinds for decades now.
On this one edition in Singapore, the butt-whipping should stop.
Because we have formed a team that may be the strongest we formed in years, perhaps decades. This team I’m talking about is a group we can proudly claim as our Avengers. Filipino Avengers, if I may say. Yes they are.
Former foes Alyssa Valdez and Aby Marano are finally playing together. Sisters Dindin Santiago-Manabat and Jaja Santiago are re-united for a cause. Silent assassin Aiza Maizo-Pontillas is in. Rhea Dimaculangan and Maika Ortiz were finally given the green light by the Philippine Air Force to join. Puny but big-hearted Jia Morado will try to reprise her role as a David against the region’s Goliaths. Talented and charismatic Rachel Ann Daquis and Jovelyn Gonzaga have both said yes. Denden Lazaro accepted the role as vacuum cleaner for stray balls. Incredible Gretchel Soltones completes the cast.

The final addition was Marano, who decided in the last-minute to join the Singapore-bound squad and gave up her spot in the other Philippine team out to scale the Great Wall in the Asian Seniors Championship in Beijing, China from May 20-28.
Oh bless her heart.
Oh bless all their hearts.

I’m happy that we’re starting to see the light. Products of the sacrifices taken by the girls, who were ridiculed at the start but eventually persevered and did the miraculous by finishing seventh out of 12 right on our very return to the international scene after a decades-long hiatus. And we stared eye to eye for some fleeting moments against world powers like China, Japan and Chinese Taipei.
Not too long ago that only four showed up on the first day of practice a month ago. Now every player wants to be part of the team. Not too long ago that our players didn’t even get a single shirt nor have food or water during practice. Now sponsors and support have started to pour in.
And for those who kept the faith, hold your heads up high.

Your faith is the reason for this miracle.
Wake me up, I’m dreaming.

“And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes and heroines found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand! Through the years, their roster has prospered, changing many times, their glory has never been denied! Heed the call, then—for now, the Avengers Assemble!”
—Prologue from The Avengers used in the 1970s

Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

(Photos courtesy of Volleyball PH Photo Albums)


Tagum City
May 10, 2015

Today marked the day I have wrapped up my 14th Palarong Pambansa coverage for The Philippine STAR.
I always enjoyed covering this multi-sports event for elementary and high school students because it’s like a festibval of sorts, a showcase of not just athletic and sporting skills and talents by about 10,000 athletes from across the nation but also the products the host–Davao del Norte–can offer like Durian, Mangosteen, etc.
But I’m writing this blog not to pay tribute to the likes of National Capital Region tankers Sacho Illustre and Seth Isaak Martin, who splashed their way to an impressive seven gold medals including multiple record-breakers on the side, nor pocket-sized Northern Mindanao runner Jie Ann Calis, who blew away the field by destroying three athletics marks.
Because this is about these three gymnasts from Davao. Their names are Brian Albert Buhian, Janliver Estabaya and Louie Villacorte, Jr., who returned the P50,000 cash they found somewhere in their billeting quarters. No less than gracious host Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario lauded these kids in the grand closing ceremony at the DavNor Sports and Tourism Complex the night before.
These kids showed us that the Palaro is not all about determination, teammanship, sporting excellence and discipline. They also thought us about honesty. Buhian, Estabaya and Villacorte never won a single medal. But they won our hearts. Their honesty is worth more than the medals others wore on their necks.
So congratulations.
Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar