The No.1 export of the Philippines

On the morning of April 27, 1521, our first national hero was discovered. Named Lapu-Lapu, together with bare-chested warriors he extinguished the Spanish armada led by the Portuguese, Ferdinand Magellan. Using spears and the Moro weapon kampilan, they butchered and knifed the enemies in the “Battle Of Mactan.”

That was 487 long years ago. Today, Lapu-Lapu’s bravery continues….

Wearing the same brown skin as Lapu-Lapu, Filipinos faced Spaniards. And worse, our countrymen were up against more invaders: the Americans, British, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Koreans, the French—a total of 23 other nations have landed in Cebu to conquer Cebu. This time, the skirmish was named, “Battle at Ayala.”

For four days ending yesterday at the Ayala Center Cebu, there stood women, boys, men and girls who clashed during the 10th World Eskrima Arnis Kali Championships.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I watched. I saw banners that hung from the rafters. Video cameras recorded to document all angles. Security guards paraded to cordon the Activity Center. A large screen loomed onstage. The fights were plenty.

Imagine 24 countries battling under one city, one mall, one floor? Many foreign visitors were muscular. Some were tall; others petite. Plenty were long-haired with tattoos; some were bald. Many wore red; some, blue; a few, white.

My best watch? Two fighters surrounded by two camps of screaming teammates, one chanting “U! S! A! U! S! A!” the other hollering, “U! K! U! K! U! K!” They were shouting in unison and, standing beside Atty. Dionisio Cañete, the Supreme Grandmaster of Doce Pares, all I could do was smile, clap and gaze amazed at the revelry. Imagine, on RP soil, the U.S. vs. the U.K.?

For here’s my point: While Lapu-Lapu used sticks and swords to bloody and kill Magellan; while Arnis and Eskrima are widely acknowledged to have originated in the Philippines—this type of martial arts is not popular here. Or, it’s not as popular here as it is in other nations. Plus, of course, we know it pales in comparison against taekwondo, karatedo or aikido.

But here’s the irony: this Filipino martial arts is popular outside our archipelago.

Take the Americans. In all, they sent a 110-strong team. The British? Dozens. Same with 23 other nations. And though we fielded a squad that reached a hundred, you can see how popular stick-fighting has grown outside RP soil. In all, about 100 who joined the event were Filipinos—compared to 500 foreigners!

Which led former judo champion Nimrod Quiñones, the managing editor of The Freeman, to conclude: “Arnis is RP’s top export.” Well-said, Nim.

With this in mind, plenty is being done to counter this. To start with, the recent 10th WEKAF world meet was a way to popularize the sport. And the fact that the organizers—led by Grandmaster Diony Cañete, and Gerald and Michael Cañete—decided to hold it not at a far-flung basketball gym but at the heart of Cebu, at Ayala Center, is a tactic to entice Cebuanos to watch. And kudos to Ayala Center for their support—led by Cebu Holdings, Inc. President Francis Monera and top Ayala officials Joy Polloso and Bong Dy—for personally being there.

Senator Migz Zubiri, a former undefeated arnisador, I met last Wednesday. He invigorated the crowd with his speech and, right after, demonstrated his skill in an exhibition with Team Pinoy head coach (and four-time world champ) Val Pableo. Best of all, while talking to our group of sportswriters and together with his good friend and top businessman Edwin Ortiz, he authored a bill in the Senate declaring arnis as RP’s National Sport—to be taught at all schools.

Good. Great. Because with the recent 10th WEKAF World Championships success, I hope arnis gains more popularity. In RP. In Cebu. Among Filipinos.

We owe it to Lapu-Lapu.

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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