Silent workers

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The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) celebrated its 29th anniversary last week without big fanfare.

Its subdued commemoration was marked only by a simple dinner, presentations by its staff and employees and inspirational speeches by its leaders.

The flashes came only from the cell phone cameras of those in attendance. There were only a few members of the media present, those who worked late and let pass the Friday night traffic madness.

Loyalty awards were given to PSC employees who dedicated more than half their lives to Philippine sports.

That the observance was low-key denied the fact that the PSC is embarking on a big project this year.

In November, the country is hosting the 30th Southeast Asian Games. Outside of the SEA Games Federation, comprised of the top regional sports leaders who have glued the region through the South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games, the event is called the DU30 SEA Games.

The Games’ other, yet unofficial, name came only after sports officials remarked that it coincidentally is the first – and hopefully not the last – big sports meet the Philippines will host under President Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership. Duterte used the number for his presidential run.

The SEAP Games took off with just six countries in 1958. It had Burma (now Myanmar), Kampuchea (now Cambodia), Laos, Malaya (now Malaysia), Thailand and Vietnam as founding members.

The inclusion of Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines in 1977 marked big and better changes for the SEAP Games. From thereon, the event and organization were changed to the present SEA Games. It now has 11 countries, including Singapore and Timor-Leste.

There was a reason for the PSC’s self-nip against extravagance.

First, its chairman William I. Ramirez is not known to being a profligate leader.

Ramirez grew up, studied, became an academician and rose to become President Duterte’s top sports official in Davao. His last job was his key to his rise to the PSC. He is the only sports leader to have been appointed to the PSC’s top post twice, first by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and then again by Mr. Duterte.

He served Duterte longer than anyone else. But as the story goes, he was the only one in Duterte’s closest circle of six men (that included former SAP Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go) who was not given a Cabinet position. He was first considered for the Subic Bay Management Authority, but President Duterte deemed to place him where the President thought he would be best serving – the PSC.

Like a good soldier, Ramirez has no complaints.

Second, Ramirez knows he has big expectations to meet. Ironically, it is his own record of having led the Philippines to its first and only SEA Games overall championship in 2005 when he first served the agency as chairman. He has to work harder now with only 10 months left before the Philippines’ fourth hosting of the Games.

It is a tougher job now, however.

He has very little time left to produce another miracle.

Management of the SEA Games was transferred to the PSC by President Duterte only just now after a shaky start the last two years.

The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) was marred by a political squabble that saw a leadership change midstream. Jose “Peping” Cojuangco was ousted via majority vote through a court-ordered election.

Boxing chief Victorico Vargas took over as POC president but only after the SEA Games preparations have taken off. He needed to catch up with everything.

The task of preparing for the hosting was also initially given to Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri. But the Philippines had to withdraw from the chore when terror gripped Marawi and the once prime city in Mindanao needed rehabilitation. Government felt the money it would spend for the Games should go to the Marawi rehab, instead.

But former Foreign Affairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano convinced Mr. Duterte to save the SEA Games hosting. He was placed on top of the preparations but he resigned his DFA post and focused on his bid for a seat in Congress.

Thus, the PSC is now taking over the SEA Games hosting management.

Ramirez thinks the P7.5-billion budget allotted to the SEAG is too much. He said the Games can be held successfully with just a third of the amount used.

He knows where to put the other P5 billion and his board of Ramon Fernandez (the basketball icon), Charles Maxey, Celia Kiram and Arnold Agustin are in agreement with him to build training centers across the country with the money to be saved from the SEAG.

Besides, the country is preparing not just for the SEA Games but for its ultimate sporting goal of winning the country’s very first Olympic gold medal.

Tokyo 2020 beckons the Philippines to produce that medal. But it will not be easy.

The country had come close to winning one twice.

But Mansueto Velasco settled for the silver medal in 1996, bowing in the light-flyweight final to Bulgaria’s Daniel Bozhilov Petrov.

In 2018, Hidilyn Diaz won the silver medal in the women’s 58-kg category of weightlifting. She was waiting for the announcement of her bronze medal when her Chinese rival injured herself attempting a record lift. Her event, however, was recently scratched from international competitions by the international weightlifting federation. That silver will be the last for Diaz in the Olympics.

While it is the task of the national sports associations under the POC to train the athletes, the PSC funds their training and participation in international events.

The PSC started with just P400 million for its annual budget. Of late, it has been receiving no more than P200 million allocation from Congress through the General Appropriation.

But it has to spend for more some 50 sports associations under the POC, a non-government organization. It has to maintain hundreds of national athletes and members of the training pool.

The PSC also takes care of government’s grassroots sports programs, aside from being the go-to agency for many lawmakers seeking support for sports equipment, trophies and provide sports expertise to their constituents.

It does not have enough. But its leaders – past and present – did not and have no complaints.

They’re the silent workers of government.

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