Reemerging sports powerhouse in Asia

Let us also cheer and support our fellow Filipinos who are struggling amid the ongoing pandemic and other crises.

Basketball has probably taken root in our country more so than any other sport. It is not uncommon to see basketball courts in most, if not all, our barangays.

Across our country, basketball is played on the streets, in school gymnasiums, in every town or city multipurpose courts, and even in arenas or coliseums. If not playing the game themselves, most Filipinos watch basketball matches, earning us the appellation of a hoop-crazy nation.

It is no wonder then why many Filipinos were concerned over the recent performance of our Philippine national men’s basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, which crashed out of the FIBA Asia Cup last July without reaching the quarterfinals — the first time in 15 years. This came just two months after the team fell short of a 14th straight gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam.

The results of these outings, although unfortunate, serve as an opportunity for us to unite and help rather than criticize, especially since we know how much more capable Gilas Pilipinas could be. Five times, our team reigned as champion of the FIBA Asia Cup. Our team also has the distinguished history of securing a bronze medal in the 1954 FIBA World Championship, which is the only podium finish by any Asian team.

Nine years ago, when the Philippines hosted the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, I was one of the many Filipinos who watched avidly as our team defeated much taller foes, one after another. The Gilas Pilipinas we saw fought against all odds to snatch the silver medal in the competition.

As we once again prepare to host the 2023 FIBA World Cup alongside Japan and Indonesia next year, we must give our national team its needed support to show the world that we could still be the sports powerhouse in Asia. This shall also serve as an opportune time for us to further boost our tourism industry and spur our country’s economic recovery. More tourists mean more livelihood opportunities and more jobs for Filipinos.

Thus, as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Sports, we will hold our first committee hearing for the 19th Congress today. Aside from being an organizational meeting where we will discuss our legislative priorities and policy direction with fellow legislators, sports officials and stakeholders, we shall also tackle the preparations being made for the FIBA World Cup hosting.

I, together with Senators Joel Villanueva, Alan Peter Cayetano, Mark Villar and Francis Tolentino, had earlier filed Senate Resolution 83, urging the Committee on Sports to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the ways to support Gilas Pilipinas and, in the process, review the relevant laws and policies to ensure optimal performance in future international sports competitions and to protect the welfare of our Filipino athletes. To reiterate, our purpose is to help, not to criticize or intervene in any of the internal affairs of the team.

As testament to our unwavering support to the Philippine basketball team, my fellow senators and I personally watched the match of Gilas Pilipinas against Saudi Arabia last 29 August. Even President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. witnessed as Gilas Pilipinas outscored Saudi Arabia 84-46. This shows that with a pumped-up home crowd and unity, our Philippine team can achieve victory.

As an avid basketball fan and a sports enthusiast, I only wish to provide our athletes what they need when they represent our country. This is also why I have been an ardent advocate for long-term grassroots sports development, especially in the countryside.

To provide a dedicated academy for promising young athletes, I previously authored and co-sponsored Republic Act 11470, establishing the National Academy of Sports in Tarlac. I have also earlier supported the creation of the Philippine Sports Training Center in Bataan. More recently, I filed my proposed Philippine National Games Act of 2022 to ensure a more inclusive system of promoting promising Filipino athletes who possess potential in various fields of sport to be given an equal opportunity of becoming future contenders in international sporting competitions. I also continue to encourage our people, especially the youth, to get into sports and stay away from illegal drugs.

Many of our people are still suffering from the impact of the ongoing pandemic, which is why I will also continue to push for the welfare and rights of the needy, the helpless and the hopeless in the upcoming budget hearings in the Senate.

The health and other pressing needs of our struggling Filipinos will always be my priority. Thus, I never tire of distributing assistance to our vulnerable sectors nationwide.

Last week, I personally led two relief operations for indigent Pangasinenses, including 250 residents in the town of Balungao, where I was recently proclaimed as its adopted son, and 500 families in Binalonan.

My office likewise provided aid to struggling residents whose livelihoods were disrupted due to the pandemic, including 2,000 in Barbaza, Antique; 1,000 in Dasmariñas City, Cavite; 400 in Malolos City, Bulacan; 276 from Surallah, Tampakan, Polomolok, and Tantangan in South Cotabato; 334 from San Jose, Gerona, and Victoria in Tarlac; 300 in Magalang, Pampanga; 300 in Laak, 300 in Nabunturan, and 300 more in Maragusan, Davao de Oro; 100 in Tagum City, Davao del Norte; 514 in Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya; 666 in Tuburan, Cebu; and 400 in Dauin, Negros Oriental.

Similar assistance was given to 1,000 indigents in Buruanga, Aklan; 908 in Siquijor, Siquijor; 757 in Orani, Bataan; 335 individuals in Reina Mercedes, Mallig, Delfin Albano, Sta. Maria and Cabagan, and 113 more in San Pablo in Isabela; 300 in Angeles City, Pampanga; 216 in Norala, Banga, Koronadal City and Tupi in South Cotabato; 715 in Malolos City, 200 in San Jose del Monte City and 153 in Guiguinto, Bulacan; and 71 more in Villaverde, Nueva Vizcaya.

My office also mounted a series of relief efforts in Palawan which benefitted 300 in Culion; 56 in Roxas; 55 in Araceli; and 50 more in Dumaran. Meanwhile in Sarangani, we provided aid to 126 residents in Malapatan, 71 in Alabel, 48 in Malungon, and 48 in Glan.

We also gave immediate help to 24 families who were affected by a fire incident in Orani, Bataan; and nine more in Iloilo City. Meanwhile, my team likewise provided assistance to 334 flash flood victims in San Dionisio, Iloilo.

Furthermore, we provided much-needed assistance to 136 students from the Ata-Manobo Tribe in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

As we continue to cheer for and support our athletes, let us also cheer and support our fellow Filipinos who are struggling amid the ongoing pandemic and other crises. Our compassion and unity as a nation are needed both to spur our athletes to victory and to successfully uplift the lives of our Filipino people leaving no one behind.

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