Monthly Archives: March 2011

P-Noy? No, says the Pinoy president

(Photo from the Phil. Daily Inquirer)

(Reuters.com)

I voted for Benigno Aquino III. Prior to May 2010, I thought Gibo possessed more intelligence and charisma, believed in Dick Gordon’s street smarts, knew Sen. Manny Villar had billions more and, well, with Erap, found him funny, even laughable, during the CICC presidential debate. Yet, I voted for the only son of “The greatest Filipino president we never had.” That martyr’s name was Ninoy Aquino. I chose Noynoy because of his humility and honesty.

Given his latest “sports” announcement, I was proven right. Though insignificant to many, it speaks plenty on the person who leads our overcrowded nation of 92,000,000 people. What announcement?

Last Monday, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) had a long-overdue hour-long meeting with Pres. Noynoy. In attendance were the PSC Chairman Richie Garcia, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Chairman Peping Cojuangco, Jr., and PSC Commissioner Jolly Benitez. The meeting was held in Malacañang.

Among many topics on sports, the main discussion centered on a nationwide event that’s labeled “PNG.” Previously called the “Philippine National Games” and held during the years 1993 to 1996, this tournament was to be revived this 2011. An estimated 31 national sports associations are requested to join the Olympics-patterned event. This is a magnificent boost to PHL sports. The PNG will be held in Bacolod City (mainly at the ‘Azkals home-court,’ the Panaad Sports Complex) this May 23 to 28.

What’s the difference between this PNG with the one of 15 years ago? The name. Our sports officials wanted to call it by another name: P-Noy National Games. Nothing wrong with that, right? The acronym is still PNG. The head of our nation — and our total sports program — is P-Noy. Plus, his name “P-Noy” rhymes with “Pinoy” which, of course, refers to you and me. We’re Pinoys.

P-Noy National Games. Go! But, wait. When informed three days ago about this seemingly minor change from “Philippine” to “P-Noy,” our president said, Wait… hold it right there… Why the name change? Well, said Richie Garcia, you’re P-Noy and these games are for the Pinoys. Go?

No. The person that you and I and 15.2 million others voted for displayed an act of humility. He said no. He asked the top sports officials to stick with the original name, Phil. National Games. Had P-Noy agreed with Garcia and Cojuangco, his uncle, on the P-Noy Natl. Games, nobody would have complained. Because don’t politicians employ this strategy all the time? To plaster their faces, to advertise their names, to promote their accomplishments through sports?

Yes. This is the Pinoy Way. The Pinoy Politicians Tactic. Which brings me to ask: When public servants use their names to promote themselves — and less the sporting event — are they paying for the tournament themselves? Is it their money being used? No. It’s the Pinoys’ money. It’s our money. It’s your money. It’s my money. It’s our money that these elected officials are using to promote…. themselves.

This latest P-Noy decision did not land on any of the major headline stories. I found it not in Phil. Star or the Phil. Daily Inquirer or in Manila Bulletin. I read it in Malaya under the title, “It’s simply called PH Nat’l Games.”

“‘President Aquino said ‘Huwag na lang and just call it the Philippine National Games’ when he asked him if we could use the P-Noy Games for the meet,’ said PSC chief Richie Garcia, who attended the one-hour meeting with POC president Jose Cojuangco Jr. and Commissioner Jolly Benitez,” read the story written by Bong Pedralvez last Tuesday. “‘The President said this event is for the Philippines so it would be best to call it the Philippine National Games,’ Garcia added.”

Here’s my hope: In the future, when our local officials concoct sporting events, that they’ll feel guilty about advertising their name. Go, P-Noy? the president is asked. No. Go, Pinoy.

Ping! Mancao suprises Lacson on the plane

Of all the family names that inhabit our planet, the one that Sen. Panfilo Lacson detests the most is “Mancao.” It was police officer Cezar Mancao II who testified against him which led to his disappearance since Jan. 5, 2010.

Last Saturday, Sen. Lacson came home. He flew from Hong Kong to Cebu. In a “Believe It Or Not!” episode, guess which family name sat beside him in the Business Class section of Cathay Pacific? MANCAO.

Dr. Peter Mancao, a cousin of Cezar, recounts this amazing tale… “This trip, from the start was action packed! On the flight to L.A., one of the passengers had a seizure while he was on the way to the lavatory and he got a huge wound on the bridge of his wound that happened very close to where I was seated. So I got up and did some first aid. Good thing we were just two hours away from L.A.

“With the marathon itself turned out to be stormy (that’s another story), then on the return flight to Cebu from L.A. my wait at the Tom Bradley airport in L.A. turned out to be the most agonizing wait and anxiety whether I could board the plane.

“Then the trip from HK to Cebu. I was fortunate to get a very good deal on business class tickets (courtesy of Ungo runner Sheila Colmenares). As I walked in the plane I spotted familiar faces: Eva Gullas, flying in from NY, and Benson Dakay from Shanghai. As I got nearer to my seat, a very familiar person was seated next to me. I could not believe my luck! I had to run to get hold of the Phil. Daily Inquirer and check if there was any news on Sen. Ping Lacson going home. Indeed, there was. Sen. Lacson was seated next to me. It was just the two of us in that section, so I got up and greeted him ( “Good morning, Senator. I’m Dr. Mancao from Cebu. I don’t know if you remember but we met in White Gold House when you were campaigning in Cebu.”).

“I’ve never seen a guy as humble, considering his stature and the conditions he has been through. As we talked, I asked the reason for his return via Cebu. He said he wanted to avoid the media circus. And, in my first request for a photo op, he politely declined. As there was a slight delay in the departure, we continued to talk and told him I hope you don’t mind us talking because I’m a cousin of Cesar. His quick reply was he had no problem with that. We moved on to another topic and I told him, “So it was not true that you were hiding in Cebu?” He had a huge laugh.

“A few minutes before landing, I showed him my L.A. Marathon medal and explained to him how I got hooked to running. This time, he obliged to have a photo with me and my medal. When we landed, I was the first to greet him, “Welcome back!” It was such a coincidence because when my cousin Cesar returned to Manila, he was on the same plane as my dad (Dr. Mike Mancao) who was also returning from L.A.

LOS ANGELES MARATHON. “Team Cebu was divided into Team A and Team B. Dr. Yong Larrazabal and his wife Donna were in Team A (being the faster runners) while me, my daughter Mykha (who was running her first full marathon) and Chris Locsin (J&J rep here in Cebu and also her first full marathon) were Team B. We positioned ourselves with the 5-hour pace group at the start (Dodgers Stadium).

“The weather forecast for that day was heavy rain. Right from the start the rain made its presence, as it was drizzling on and off. Barely 5 km. into the race, the rain strengthens (yet the song goes “It never rains in California”) and, at some point, wind started blowing. (I heard that the LA Marathon was bought by the owner of the LA Dodgers and he managed to turn around this event as it was not getting good reviews in the past. It has one of the best routes of all the U.S. marathons but unfortunately the weather was not cooperating.)

“Mykha decides to move ahead of us as she had a 5hour finish in mind while we had 5h30m as our goal. At the 21K mark, we were still within our goal but little did we know that the weather was getting worse. The rain and wind were getting stronger. The roads were water logged plus the temperatures were dropping fast. We were doing the Galloway run-walk technique but the weather made us do more walking than running.

“At the 32K mark, we got into a medical station that provided us with garbage bags as makeshift rain jackets. We were given Mylar blankets. This got us back running but at this point were looking at a 6-hour plus finish. Runners were dropping out at the medical stations because of hypothermia. I was looking at my first DNF (did not finish) marathon. It was at this point that we decided to get back on track with the Galloway run-walk strategy and sing our way along for the next 10k.

“The finish line was another story as the Santa Monica Beach was in a fury with the storm. We had to walk another kilometer to get to the after-race finishers meeting area with strong winds blowing us off the road. When we got to the area, it was leveled-out. The tents were blown off. We had to walk back to the family waiting area aching in pain and shivering from the cold and endured the wait for our ride to Mykha’s apartment. Team B’s time: Mykha 4h56min; me and Chris, 6:55. Team A: Yong 3:50 and Donna, 4:30.”

L.A. MARATHON. “Marathon running has become my own little amazing race. Each one has its own challenges and a story to tell. I thought the Galloway run-walk technique was the answer to my prayer but now it looks like I have to pray some more. I really hate the 30th to 35th km. mark; somehow it has become my wall. I keep telling myself to add more mileage to my training but then again I don’t want to take away the fun part in doing my amazing race.

NO. 8. “I never expected to be doing marathon no. 8 at the time I ran new york. It was just supposed to be crossing out one item in my bucket list. I always swear each time I finish a marathon that that would be the last one. That is, until a few days later when i talk to Yong and James Abilla of St. James Water that planning for the next one always manages to get on the table.

LATE ARRIVAL. “I had my plane ticket booked late december 2010 and at that time was having problems with return flight. When i checked w/ the CX counter i was told that if i wanted a guaranteed booking i had to wait a week as all flights were fully booked so i had to take that chance last thursday and wow it turned out to be a punctuation mark for this trip.”

Ormoc City’s TLBF

Last Thursday, I wrote about Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal, who recently retired after a seven-year stint with the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Goyo, as he is known to all, is now focused on another mission: Biking.

In 2002, he launched the Terry Larrazabal Bike Festival (TLBF). In honor of his late father, Terry, the TLBF is a weekend-long party of cyclists and mountain-bikers that has become the biggest yearly gathering for pedal-pushers. “We’ve brought the festival back to where it started and where it belongs,” said Goyo, on the TLBF to be held in Ormoc City. “The 2011 TLBF will be more ‘homegrown.’ I just retired, so we wanted make it more ‘local.’”

While Atty. Larrazabal was the youngest commissioner of the Comelec, he had to be based in Manila. And so, for 2009, the TLBF was held in nearby Subic. Not this year. What makes this the country’s biggest? “Normally, events happen within a day and after, everyone goes home. Having 100 to 200 participants makes the event already big (in Mindanao, you might have 500+ participants for a MTB XC event). For the 2009 TLBF, there were about 1,200 competitors,” said Goyo.

“For a regular event, they might have one to three races. The TLBF in 2009 had about 14 races and 10 side events. The TLBF is one of the very few events where cyclists from all parts of the Philippines come to attend. And in 2009, we had participants from 14 countries (excluding the Philippines). The 2006 festival appeared in about a dozen international magazines (US, South America, Asia and Europe). This year, we have 20 radio stations running our radio ads nationwide. We’re also the first cycling event outside the U.S. included in the Dirt Rag Magazine World Tour.”

The TLBF will be held this Thursday to Sunday (March 31 to April 3). In the official website, www.tlbf.org, you will see the list of activities. For bikers, there are numerous races: Cross-country, single speed cross-country, 29er cross country, Downhill, Time Trial, Criterium and, the most fun, a “Beer Run” where, “after completing a pre-determined cross-country course, participants must finish drinking five bottles of beer, before being declared as winner.”

The TLBF is not all biking. Included are the following diverse sporting competitions: Ultimate Frisbee, softball, boxing, shoot-fest (Level 2 PPSA), and a national Football invitational. Plus, as Ormoc is known world-wide for this most delicious fruit, there’s the Pineapple Trail Run. “It will be the most unique off-road marathon in the Philippines,” explains Goyo. “Imagine running through and across a pineapple plantation, with pineapples on both sides and cowboys on their horses as marshals!”

Goyo Larrazabal: My Comelec story

Mention the words “Larrazabal” and “Running” in the same sentence and you get a unanimous reply: Y-O-N-G. That’s Dr. Potenciano Larrazabal III, the most prominent marathoner in Cebu.

Mention the words “Larrazabal” and “Biking” in the same line and, this time, you get a different answer but with nearly the same letters interchanged: G-O-Y-O. That’s Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal. Yong and Goyo are cousins. One is an eye doctor; the other, a lawyer with an eye for public service. In sports, no two people are more passionate.

Hans Rey with Goyo L.

Atty. Goyo Larrazabal, of course, we saw on TV. During the 2010 elections, he was the youthful face of the Comelec. He was the “rookie” tasked to spearhead a first in PHL politics.

“I was in COMELEC for seven years,” said Goyo. “I started out as Provincial Election Supervisor, was Regional Election Director, then became the president of the COMELEC Regional Election Directors Organization. It was during my stint as President of CREDO when all the regional directors made a manifesto for me to be appointed as Commissioner.”

After the confirmation, the En Banc designated him as the Steering Committee head. “It was a challenge as I was — literally and figuratively — the youngest Commissioner given the task of overseeing the conduct of the automated elections,” said the 39-year-old Goyo.

“It was an opportunity and challenge that doesn’t come that often (a huge understatement). There were so many challenges that had to be addressed. We worked together with a number of dedicated and qualified individuals who shared a common goal: to change the way people view elections and how elections are conducted in the Phils.”

While the Filipino voting populace was doubtful, even suspicious, of computerization, the Comelec delivered on its promise.

“People, I guess, now fully appreciate the pressure during the weeks leading up to the elections,” he said. “But there was no option other than to make sure we had elections on May 10. And I’m forever grateful to countless individuals who stayed the course and focused on the goal, despite the deluge of disinformation some were spreading.”

Today, his first name “Commissioner” has reverted back to “Attorney.”

“I retired on Feb. 2,” said Goyo. “Now, I’ve been busy with the Terry Larrazabal Bike Festival (TLBF) and Pinoy Bikes/Bike Town Cyclery. I’m also planning for voter education/empowerment which we hope to launch this year with the DepEd and PPCRV.”

A mountain-biker for the past 22 years, Goyo looks like the 5-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain. I asked if his myriad of experiences–including founding the TLBF (which runs next week, from March 31 to April 3)–helped him handle the unimaginable pressure.

“I consider myself blessed because of my unique perspectives,” he said. “I belonged to a political family, thus giving me the view candidates have of elections. I used to practice election law, thus providing me with a unique insight. I used to teach (St. Peter’s College and Cebu Doctor’s Univ.), work in a bank, work in the Office of the President of the Philippines, and had the perspective of an event organizer (the TLBF).

“I always say that elections is an event, which needs to be managed properly AND I was a COMELEC field official who was assigned all over… from Region III, Region V, Region VIII and the ARMM. Add to this the support of my family, which is important for anyone who wants to be successful.

“And when I got appointed, there were some people who wondered why, as I was young (the youngest Commissioner on record) and they didn’t really know me. Some speculated I was there to make sure the elections would not push thru (“Why was this young guy appointed and made to head the automation project?).

“But when we did our work, even on Sundays, we knew that failure was never an option. Knowing that you’re doing it for your country, family, wife and specially my son, that was the driving force behind the effort.”

(Read this story on the TLBF 2008.)

Golf for Japan

The new Board of Directors of the Cebu Country Club, led by Montito Garcia, is off to a fast start. They’ve only been in control for less than two weeks and, now, they’ve announced a big charity event to help Japan.

Frederic Chiongbian, the CCC Golf Chairman, wrote me: “The Cebu Country Club, in cooperation with Toyoflex Cebu Corporation and the Japanese Golfers Association, will have a tournament on Saturday, March 26.”

‘Golf For Japan’ will be that fund-raiser to help our Japanese neighbors. As a start, P1,000,000 was donated. “Club president Ramontito Garcia was on hand to receive its first donation of one million pesos from Toyoflex Cebu Corp., represented by Mr. Takashi Tanaka,” said Frederic. “Also on hand to receive the donation were Mr. Masatsugo Ochiai and Mr. Masao Koike of the Japanese Golfers Association. There will be countless raffle prizes as well as hole-in-one prizes from Eagle Golf Carts, Skygo, Mazda and Suzuki. Proceeds will be donated to the relief operations fund. Dinner and Awarding will be in the CCC main ballroom at 6:30 p.m. on March 26.”

The ‘Triangle Offense’ of Roger-Novak-Rafa

Novak Djokovic is the world’s No.1 player. Unofficially. Because based on the ATP rankings, he is No. 2, having recently supplanted Roger Federer. The numero uno is still Rafael Nadal. But, in my tennis book, given that Novak sports an 18-0 record this 2011 and due to his twin wins over Roger (in the Indian Wells semis) and Rafa (finals), then he, rightfully, deserves to be the Top Gun.

Will he, soon, finally become the true ATP No.1? I have no doubt. His confidence level is at its highest. He won the Australian Open. He won the Davis Cup for Serbia. He’s en route to replacing R & R. Is this good for tennis? Absolutely. Rafa and Roger have exchanged No.1 rankings since February 2004. That’s seven long years ago. Since then, it’s been all R & R. Nobody else has become “The Best.” The Roddicks, the Murrays — they’ve all tried. And faltered. Roger and Rafa are the Qaddafis of tennis; they don’t want to relinquish their thrones (I know.. bad joke). Djokovic’s ascension will inspire others to say, “Hey, finally, someone’s been able to do it! We can, too!”

Rafa? He’s got plenty of points to defend in the upcoming clay-court season. If he loses some matches–and Novak wins a few more–they can exchange positions. Novak will be on top. But the problem (to his opponents) is this: Rafa hardly loses on clay. In the opinion of many, including mine, he is the greatest ever on that slow court. Last year, he was undefeated at 22 matches on clay — including his fifth French Open crown.

From San Miguel Beer to Petron? Why?

Last Friday, on board Cebu Pacific and flying to Manila, there was turbulence in the air. My head shook. My face frowned. My mind trembled. It was hard to believe. No, the sky was clear and the wind did not howl–the jolt came from the Philippine Daily Inquirer article I was reading.

Ronnie Nathanielsz wrote a stellar column last Friday entitled, “Big risk – why the name change?” Born in Sri Lanka, Nathanielsz has since resided in Manila for many decades now. He’s an icon in sports media: in print, in boxing, in TV, in tennis, basketball…

“While we recognize the inherent right of San Miguel Corp. to change the name of its San Miguel Beer team in the Philippine Basketball Association to Petron, we are certainly baffled over the name change,” wrote Nathanielsz in the very first paragraph.

Starting next season, the SMB franchise has requested the PBA Board of Governors to change its name to Petron. There’ll no longer be San Miguel in the PBA. Why this perplexing move when the words “San Miguel Beermen” are not only the most famous but also the most historical?–leaves SMB loyalists baffled.

“To millions across the nation who love the sport of basketball with a passion,” Nathanielsz continued, “San Miguel Beer was—and will always remain—a team they could identify with through the years as the flagship representative of San Miguel Corp. It was inherently Filipino and carried the San Miguel Beer name with remarkable distinction. To change the name to Petron and to expect the same dedicated following is a tremendous risk that the corporation is taking.”
Ronnie has a point. Although SMB has a losing record in today’s PBA second conference (one win/four losses), this short-term negativity has nothing to do with its positive, winning name. San Miguel to Petron?

“Simply put, there is absolutely no synergy between beer and gasoline,” added Nathanielsz. (Well, Ron, there are indeed similarities: Gasoline fuels the Toyotas, Hyundais and Mazdas; Beer fuels the body.)

Studying further this issue in a few more websites, I noticed that this appears to be a purely business-driven decision. Phoenix Fuel, a Petron competitor, has purchased the Barako Bull franchise and wants to enter the PBA. This move by SMB (which owns a major stake in Petron) to change its PBA name to the oil giant will disallow Phoenix from joining the oldest professional basketball league in Asia. Why? Because the PBA rules, if I understood them well, state that no direct competitor of an existing team be allowed to join the league.

But Ronnie counters this analogy. “Surely Petron cannot consider Phoenix a competitor in the accepted sense of the word because it is basically a small player in the Visayas and Mindanao regions,” he said. “What is even more perplexing is the effort to keep out Phoenix when the firm, to its credit, has invested in the PBA by sponsoring the out-of-town games which serve as one of the major boosts to the acceptance of the pro league in the provinces.”

Truly, this is an unusual move by Danding Cojuangco, Jr., Ramon Ang and San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Digging further into history (thanks to Wikipedia), the SMB franchise has been in existence since 1975. This was when the Philippine Basketball Association started. This was 36 years ago. In all, SMB holds the record for the most number of league titles at 18. To delete “San Miguel” from the pro league is bewildering. It’s like saying the L.A. Lakers will quit the NBA or the Celtics will change its name to the Boston Green Horns. It’s implausible. San Miguel is Pinoy basketball.

“We believe that with San Miguel Corp.’s right to rename its team, it comes with the need to exercise responsibility in relation to the millions of fans of the San Miguel Beer basketball team,” said Nathanielsz. “The Beermen have a storied history and San Miguel Beer epitomizes a Filipino product of unmatched quality. We will grieve to see it removed from our cherished PBA memories.”

I’ll drink to that.

Pres. Montito Garcia of Cebu Country Club

After 12 years at the top of the leadership board of the Cebu Country Club, Douglas LuYm has relinquished his throne. Last Friday, March 11, the CCC held its annual General Membership Meeting and elections of the Board of Directors. The new skipper? He’s the most acclaimed golfer of the crowd: Ramontito Garcia.

Montito with Jovi Neri (photo by Frederic Chiongbian)

An eight-time winner of the yearly Club Championship (from 1991 to 1995; in 2003, 2007 and 2009), Montito had long been the club’s Golf Chairman. For over 20 years, he told me in our phone conversation yesterday afternoon, he had been part of the BOD, “on and off, after two or three years, I’d rest,” he said. Finally, he is president.

“Douglas (LuYm) and the previous Board, of which I was a part of,” said Montito, “were engrossed in winning the court case involving the club’s property. That consumed most of our efforts. Kudos to Douglas for getting it done. But now that we’ve won the case, it’s a new and fresh Board. We’ll have fresh ideas.”

The term Montito uttered most? Upgrade. “The club, as you’ve noticed,” he said, “needs a major upgrade. It’s stuck in the 1980s. We’ve fixed things here, there. Now, with the court case behind us and with a new team, we’ll be talking to architects and interior designers. We’ll seek the best plans. And based on the proposals, we’ll make projections. Then we’ll raise the funds.”

Ramontito G. was not supposed to inherit his new first name, “President.”

“I wanted to quit the Board this year and rest again,” he said. “But then, members started asking, ‘Let’s go forward. You should lead it.’ And so the opportunity presented itself. It was only recently that I decided and said yes. And, you know, I love this club just as much as anybody else.”

One more factor tipped the decision to a Yes: His late father, Cheling, was formerly the club president. Theirs is a first-ever father-and-son CCC presidency.

Finally, I asked Montito if the new position would mean less or more time on the golf course. He paused for three seconds. “When I’m under pressure, I play more golf to relax. And so, yes, more time playing golf!”

Good news for Cebu Country Club. Bad news for his competitors–especially with the Club Championship unfolding next month…

BOD. The rest of the new CCC Board of Directors? Dr. Edwin Medalle (VP), Anton Florendo (Secretary), Steve Paradies (Treasurer), Ed Alegrado (House Chairman), Atty. Julius Neri (Activities Chairman) and Frederic Chiongbian (Golf Chairman).

Also yesterday, I interviewed, via email, Frederic Chiongbian. “I have pretty big shoes to fill,” he said. “My predecessor, Ramontito, did an awesome job.” Less than a week old in his new position, Frederic has yet to meet with the different golf-related committees. But he sounded positive, saying, “We do have a lot of things to do but I know that my team will, and can, deliver.”

Any improvements on the golf course? “We have existing projects right now. We’ve had a little bit of a setback on the completion of the par 3 hole number 5. This has been an inconvenience to the golfing membership, for which we apologize, but we hope to complete this area in the next 3 to 4 months. After, we move on to the completion of the remodeling of the Par 4 Hole number 6. Also, we have stepped up on the maintenance schedule of the Golf Course.”

Summer activities? “The CCC always has its Junior Golf program in the summer,” said Frederic, who plays three times each week, often with a group of Class A golfers: Carl Almario, Eric Deen, Dr. Tony San Juan, Jonji Chiongbian, Jovi Neri, Bayani Garcia, and Evans Tumaliwan.

“This year, the program starts on the 25th of April. For the last eight years, the JunGolf program was helmed by Jovi Neri and has been very successful. Under his watch, this program has produced top-rated golfers, some of whom represented the Club in the recent PAL Inter-club where CCC placed 2nd to Del Monte in the Championship division. For more, visit our Facebook page, cebucountryclub jungolfprogram.”

Balamban runs, thanks to Runner Dave

Manny Pacquiao, after nearly four months of non-boxing, has started training in Baguio. With only 7 1/2 weeks left before his May 7 bout with Shane Mosley, it will be another laborious and agonizing time for Pacman.

Eddie Alinea of Philboxing interviewed Freddie Roach last Saturday. “The first day, or the first week for that matter, will be strictly on physical conditioning,” said Roach. “It will be all Alex’s (Ariza) show. Manny will be working with Alex 90 percent of the week.”

Ariza, the fitness coach of Manny, added: “I know Manny. I know that when he starts training he will give his 100 percent attention to it. Of course, like last year, there will be a lot of disturbances owing to his job as a congressman, but we will try to minimize that. He’s proven himself to be a pro in the past decade that we’ve been together and that won’t change.”

Of MP’s “short” preparation, Ariza countered: “For a boxer of Manny’s status, there is no such thing as a short training period. In fact, knowing him, the shorter the preparations are, the better for him. This is because, for many times, he has shown his capability to catch up.”

AZKALS. The PHL vs. Mongolia game will be shown live starting 12 noon today over Studio 23 (replay at 7 p.m.). It will also be shown 3 p.m. on Balls SkyCable 34.

The weather is a factor. Although our players are mostly from Europe (thus, they’re used to the cold), it’s reportedly as cold as -10 Celsius in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

Targets? “Honestly I expect 2 or 3 goals,” said Phil Younghusband. “Hopefully a better result than the last game.”

MAGSAYSAY. Future Balamban mayor (and today’s Councilor) Dave Karamihan loves running. He runs for public office; he organizes road-running races. He helps run one of the most dynamic of Rotary clubs: Cebu Fuente. (As to running on the road, when, Dave?) Now on its sixth year, here’s Councilor Dave on this weekend’s activities…

“We’re having the Paghandum ni Magsaysay Annual Adventure Trek. Activities start on March 19, Saturday, with a 21K (Climbathon) from the Municipal Oval to Mt. Manunggal. It used to be just 11km but the runners seem to make minced meat out of it so I made it 21km starting from the Poblacion. The last 5-6km is a dirt road.

“This is not your usual 21-km. city road. This is mostly uphill along the Transcentral highway. Water Stations will be aplenty. As for the Executive and Fun Runners, they will have different starting points along the route. Everyone (Open, Exec, Fun) starts simultaneously. Depending on the weather, the last third of the route is covered with fog! So it’s a race to the sky! Prizes start at 10K for 1st, 5k for 2nd, 3k for 3rd.

“On the same day will be the Painting Contest. This is our 4th straight year. Amateur and pro artists converge in nearby Adventure Cafe. In the evening, we party at the campsite. Ala concert at the Rock! Sponsored by SMB, as always, iba ang may pinagsamahan. Free flowing SMB for a Fee! hehe. Buy all you can… not drink all you can! The day after, March 20, we have the Mountain bike race. Race to Manunggal gihapon.

“I have my municipal dump trucks waiting near JY Square to ferry campers and racers in the early morning of March 19 and 20 (bikers). On March 20, I also have the same dump trucks ferrying campers home to Cebu City and Balamban. The campsite has toilet facilities for both men and women. Food stalls abound so no need to bring provisions. Participants are urged to help the local economy, so spend your money, bring your booty (kay concert man), experience the legacy, protect the ecology so leave with nothing but your memory! hehehe.

“This is the 54th Commemoration of the Death of Pres. Ramon Magsaysay. It was March 17, 1957 that his plane, the Mt. Pinatubo, crashed in Mt. Manunggal. So on March 17, we will have simple rites in the site to mark the tragic event. For details, call 3332190 loc 101 and look for Ceres Lozano.”

Kobe, cold in the Heat, shoots for more

Mr. Bryant faced Mr. James last Thursday. It was a meeting of two MVPs: Kobe had won the award in 2008 while LeBron snatched the Most Valuable Player trophy the past two seasons. On an eight-game winning streak in the city where the Wild Card Gym resides, the Lakers team was on a roll. Miami? They had lost steam. They lost five games in a row. But, when the two squads played three nights ago, it was LBJ who beat KB. The score: Miami, 94; L.A., 88.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

“By snapping a five-game losing streak and completing a two-game sweep of the defending champions,” wrote one of my favorite NBA analysts, Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, “the Heat reminded everyone — and most importantly themselves —they can compete with the elite when the Big Three get a little help from their soldiers.”

Miami did not win the NBA title. Not yet. Or, in the eyes of cynics, they won’t. Not in 2011. And, one victory doesn’t epitomize the whole season. They’re still in third place in the Eastern Conference. Against the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls (the top two), they’re a combined 0-6. Still, a win is a triumph–especially against the two-time defending champions.

“Had Miami lost Thursday night,” said Whitlock, “the Big Three were toast. There would be no reason to take them seriously the rest of the year.”

True. Last week was a Crisis Scenario. They had lost five straight. Calls for coach Erik Spoelstra to resign—again; in an echo we’ve heard many times before–resurfaced. Miami felt the heat. They were pressured. “A loss Thursday night would’ve destroyed the Heat mentally and emotionally,” added Whitlock. “It would’ve been a repeat of the Chicago game, complete with postgame tears.”

But, against LA, they responded positively. The game was close. With five minutes left to play, the score was 80-all. Then, after Kobe sank two three-pointers, it was 88-88. Two minutes were left. Then, Kobe–the NBA’s best closer–closed the door on himself. He failed miserably. Kobe attempted another 3-point shot. Wade blocked it. Down four points with 20 seconds remaining, he made another attempt. This time, 29-feet away. Again, he missed. In all, he was 8-for-21 and, in the crucial second half, was 2-for-11.

Kobe failed. But do you know how he responded? Over an hour after the Miami-L.A. game had finished, he came back on court and shot hundreds of jumpers.

“Bryant wanted the workout, wanted the chance to cleanse himself of missed shots and missed opportunities in the final minutes,” wrote Adrian Wojnarowski for Yahoo! Sports. “Mostly, he wanted James and Wade to understand the lengths they’ll need to go to take his title away. ‘This is my job,’ Bryant would say 2½ hours after the game, slumped in a chair courtside. ‘This is what you’re supposed to do …’”

Here’s the Wojnarowski narration: “All those Heat stars breathed a sigh, packed up and left American Airlines Arena. Bryant marched back onto the floor at 10:45 p.m. and started sweating again. Three Heat ball boys fed him passes, and Bryant marched to every corner of the floor and lofted his shots. Security staff and other Heat officials stood befuddled, unsure what to do. One security worker insisted he had never witnessed this in his eight years on the job. The Lakers were gone and Bryant was still dripping sweat on the Heat logo.

“Sometimes, players will do this in their own arena, but never on the road. This was a spectacle and no accident. Bryant’s still the player they’re chasing because he’s the MVP of the back-to-back NBA champions. Bryant knows these Heat will get it together and become a problem for everyone in the Eastern Conference. Wherever James and Wade had gone late Thursday, Bryant clearly wanted word to reach them: He won’t accept losing to the Heat. Not on Christmas, not on Thursday night and not in June.

“Hours later, when asked about his motivation in a text message, Bryant responded with the words of Achilles: ‘I want what all men want. I just want it more.’”

Tennis aces and a Japanese ace

Cebu Country Club, last weekend, organized an event to commemorate its winning a long-standing court case involving its golf course property. They called it the Thanksgiving Tournament.

One person was more thankful than everybody else. His name: Gen Nagai. His accomplishment? He scored a hole-in-one and brought home a brand-new Suzuki Celerio. This happened last Saturday. His feat was timely because, just as his countrymen were besting their Filipino rivals in Davis Cup play last weekend, Gen Nagai, a Japanese, did the same on the golf course. The tennis aces won on clay; he aced on grass. Gen’s unexpected coup at Hole No. 15 three days ago–swinging once and landing that white ball inside the cup–was the good luck charm his fellow Japanese needed. They won the Cup; he won a Celerio.

I first heard about this news last Sunday. Minutes after Go Soeda, the No.1 Japanese, defeated our own Cecil Mamiit at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, I was approached by a familiar face. Atty. Jovi Neri, watching from the bleachers with his fellow Class A golfers Marko Sarmiento, Macky Michael, and Mark Garcia, approached me after the game. We met inside the tennis court, just as Mamiit was swarmed with fans eager for a photograph with their fallen hero.

Jovi, the 2002 CCC Club champion, introduced me to a Japanese. “You should write about him in your next article,” said Atty. Neri. “He just made a hole-in-one.” Gen and I shook hands. Another person on-court, thinking I was a Davis Cup player (I wore the same blue Accel shirt as the players), took my photo with Gen. “Sure,” I told Jovi, who himself won the Division A trophy last weekend, besting Montito Garcia.

Here’s the rest of Gen’s story, e-mailed to me the other night by Jovi: “Last year, Gen was promised by his mom, Ryoko, that he would get a brand-new golf set if he will shoot below par.  Gen finally earned it by shooting a 3-under par 69 – in a tournament no less. For his reward, he would get a complete golf set custom fitted to his exact specifications.

“In this scientific era of sports, properly fitted equipment is a must for top-level athletes so they do not give an advantage to their rivals. REDGOLF, Cebu’s top golf retailer, had to take Gen’s measurements such as height, wrist-to-floor, hand size, swing-speed, swing characteristics, and other key parameters. Gen’s was assembled in Japan and took almost a month to arrive which was one week before the tournament.  He practiced a bit with his set but his first game with it was the tournament.

“Wielding a pitching wedge, he hit the perfect shot which never left its line, landed softly on the green and rolled to the hole. In his flight and witnesses to the amazing shot were: Jovi Neri, Mark Dy, Bayani Garcia, and Raymond Garcia…

“He worked hard on his game, and his mom gave him a reward with a new equipment. It must have been only fitting that he used his new equipment to score that elusive ace.”

Gen’s weekend was perfect. In fact, he plans to try swinging again at the sport that he used to play when he was even younger: tennis. (At the Plantation Bay bleachers, surrounded by Filipinos, he was the lone Japanese in the corner cheering for his team.)

“He was inspired watching his countrymen win,” said Jovi, “that he is contemplating a return to tennis to complement his golf practice. If not tennis, he is looking into swimming, running, soccer, or badminton. He hits balls everyday and practices the hardest among all the junior golfers in Cebu Country Club. He wants to add an active sport to maintain his fitness.”

As to the Suzuki Celerio that he won? The dutiful and obedient son that he his, he gave the car keys to his mom. The reason? Gen can’t drive. He doesn’t have a license. He can’t get one. While he can drive that dimpled golf ball 288 yards away and he can drive that electric golf cart in CCC, he can’t drive a car along Osmeña Boulevard. Why not? Gen is a Grade 8 student at the Cebu International School. He’s only 14.

Cecil lost in tennis — but won over Cebu

Last Sunday, he vomited. Twice. Head bowed, shoulders drooping, his face grimaced. His Babolat racquet nearly fell off his weakened fingers. Cecil Mamiit, after nearly six hours on the oven-like tennis court last Friday, sprinting and smashing and sliding from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., was fatigued. His body ached. It was his third straight day under the intense Mactan seaside heat–the hottest three days of 2011. His body protested.

(Photo by Mario Maluenda Aguilar)

Yet, this braveheart wouldn’t say no. Quit? Retire? Give up? Over 1,200 spectators last Sunday, all watching our No.1, would have understood. But Cecil doesn’t quit. Instead, after vomiting and losing that second set to Go Soeda of Japan, he sliced an uppercut. Like the boxers of the ALA Gym whom he befriended, Cecil was a boxer on tennis shorts. He fought. He jabbed–punching volleys to win the third set. He had break point chances–I counted six–in the fourth set. Had he converted–he’d have won the pivotal fourth set and possibly scored a come-from-behind victory.

But, no. In the end, with his body exasperated, he lost. Our Davis Cuppers were defeated, 3-1. But those are only numbers because, to all who watched, we won. Cecil won. He won the hearts and applause of Cebuanos. Call it determination. Call it guts. In this game of teenagers, call it a 34-year-old grandfather’s willpower.

Cecil Mamiit may not be Manny Pacquiao. But, in fighting spirit and tenacity, they are equals. Cecil may not be the Azkals–their popularity ratings are not equal. But, amongst those who watched last weekend, their prominence is the same.

In truth, we could have won. The final score, 3-1, could have been reversed. We almost did win. We should have. In that first match on Friday, Cecil had three chances to win. He held match points. He led 4-0 in the deciding set. Given that victory plus the doubles win on Saturday, a 2-1 PHL lead would have been insurmountable.

But, this is the beauty–and agony–of sports. Victory is not attained in a mere five hours and 4-0 lead. Often, it takes six hours of pain. Yes, it was painful to watch that loss. More so because of the suffering inflicted on Mamiit: a counterpuncher who is made to languish by running left, forward, right, backwards. While Go Soeda is effortless like Roger, Cecil is Rafa: he’s made to sweat, grind, agonize. And vomit.

Still, kudos to Japan. And while the loss was disappointing, everything else was near-perfect. The crowd was incredible. I’ve watched many DC ties in Manila and, I’m proud to say, the Cebuanos reign. We are loud, drum-beating, noisy–complete with sexy dancers called Harry’s Angels.

Cecil mentioned this support to me at our small-group dinner last Sunday. The cheering boosted him, he said. The passionate audience bolstered his weakened body.

Harry Radaza? He celebrated his birthday last Sunday and, though he didn’t get the birthday gift via a victory, the impressive Lapu-Lapu City hosting made the city councilor drink bottomless San Mig Light… (To Lapu-Lapu City, to Mayor Paz Radaza, and the rest of the team—especially Plantation Bay–everybody was superb!)

Back to Cecil, I spent considerable time with him the past two weeks. While Treat Huey, for example, is quiet, Cecil is entertaining and gregarious. Minutes after Sunday’s loss, he had a mix of emotions. He wiped away tears. He was tossed in the air by the Japanese. He was eloquent in the farewell speech. As dozens swarmed him for photos, he grinned.

Then… he jumped in the pool! With complete tennis attire, he dove. He then shouted to the stunned audience–who wants this shirt? A young lady jumped to the pool. Anybody want my Nike shoes? Two others plunged the water. They each grabbed a shoe and wrestled for the other. Finally, a girl screamed, “Can you give us your tennis shorts?” Ha-ha.

His loss erased by the incredible affection the Cebuanos had showered upon him, Cecil teased the crowd by slowly pulling them down… Cecil paused, smiled and—as if to say goodbye to Cebu–submerged back into the pool.

See all the photos here and here.

Can the Philippines do a Korea against Japan?

View more photos here.

Summer is here! It started last Friday. While it’s been raining and drizzling the past month, the sun roasted Cebu starting two days ago. No clouds covered and no rain showered Lapu-Lapu City. Yes. This was what we hoped for. And we got it. With near-freezing temperatures in Tokyo today, we prayed for the sun to show its might in Davis Cup Cebu. It did.

Cecil Mamiit won last Friday. He should have. He nearly did. After trailing 2-5 in the fourth set, everybody expected Cecil to lose. But, given his resilient Filipino heart, he refused to quit. He won the fourth set in a tiebreaker. In the fifth set, he led 4-0. As we looked at Tatsumi Ito’s facial language, we knew it was over. It was 1-0, Advantage, Philippines. Yehey! we shouted. My seatmate, Meyrick “Jacs” Jacalan, at that point, told my wife Jasmin, “I’ll run naked on court if we lose!” Jacs lost the bet (but was stopped from fulfilling his promise by his wife, Perl!).

We lost. In the most thrilling battle I’ve seen on a tennis rectangle, we lost the match in the fourth… we won it at 4-love in the fifth… we lost it again… we won it… until finally…. The Japanese, near-faltering, would not quit. Thus ensued a battle. Cecil had four match points, Mr. Ito had three match points–it was a see-saw battle. In the end, after 5 hours and 40 minutes–the longest and best-ever match my eyes have witnessed–Japan triumphed.  They won again last Friday in the 2nd match when Go Soeda bested Johnny Arcilla. Two-zero, Japan.

Yesterday was different. In the only doubles match of the entire weekend, Treat Conrad Huey was mad. As the sun burned the spectators, he, too, was burning inside. He served left-handed aces. He hammered the ball so hard in one forehand it almost hit the opponent in the chest.

He didn’t want to lose. Not yesterday. Not on his debut match in the Visayas. Not in front of boisterous Cebuanos. He and Cecil Mamiit played flawless doubles tennis–subduing the visitors in three, easy sets. That straightforward game was important, especially for Cecil who– after Friday’s near-six-hour match plus yesterday’s doubles–will play the first reverse singles today.

Today, it’s Cecil Mamiit vs. Go Soeda, our No. 1 vs. their No. 1. Then, it’s No. 2 Tatsumi Ito against Treat Huey. Down 1-2 in this best-of-five series, we need to win today’s two singles matches to clinch victory and make today’s birthday celebrant—Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza–the happiest man in Mactan.

Can we do it? I talked to Cecil moments after yesterday’s doubles and there was vengeance and intensity in his eyes. Almost, he won last Friday. Last year at this same month, he lost to the same Japanese he’ll face this 10 a.m.: Go Soeda. There’s retribution. There’s unfinished business to settle.

Can he do it? Yes, the Filipino can.    I saw Cecil win the gold in the Southeast Asian Games in 2005. During that moment, he was up against the top-ranked Thai, Danai Udomchoke. The Davis Cup tournament also saw Cecil do it against Korea last year. Down 0-2 last September, nobody expected us to win. The Koreans celebrated on Friday evening. They shouldn’t have. We won on Saturday. And Sunday. We beat Korea, 3-2.

Cecil can do it. Huey can, too. If this happens this March 6, 2011, it will be the craziest and most fulfilling comeback–possibly in Philippine tennis history.

TICKETS. Can you still watch? Yes. The P500 tickets are available at the Plantation Bay entrance. To get to watch two singles matches for this price is a bargain. But, while reading this, you’ve got to leave for Lapu-Lapu City now. The first match begins 10 a.m. And you wouldn’t want to miss the fiery sun—and the fiery spirit of Cecil Mamiit.