This appears in the Monday April 20, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
Of unsurpass’d heroes
by rick olivares
It was with great interest that I watched the NBA All-Star Game of 1991. Around that time, the United States and her allies were in the middle of a war with Iraq to forcibly evict them from Kuwait. That was a very emotional All-Star Game as it was held in North Carolina that is home to several military bases. Furthermore, San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, who was on the Naval reserve, was awaiting a call up for deployment to the Persian Gulf. In the stands were families of American servicemen who were in tears at the somber and moving version of “Star Spangled Banner” as performed by noted pop/jazz pianist Bruce Hornsby and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
And like many other American sporting events, there was an honor guard from all their military services on hand for the presentation of the colors.
Privately, I wondered why we never had an honor guard much less a military presence in Philippine sporting events. Maybe there was before. Obviously, it hasn’t happened for quite some time. It isn’t even visible in the top sports leagues in the country – the PBA, UAAP, NCAA, UFL or even the V-League. At least not in the last 11 years since I have been actively covering Philippine sports.
Through the years, that remained in the back of my mind.
As a youngster, I was fascinated by all things military. I even considered entering the Armed Forces.
My grandfather from my mother’s side assisted the US Army during World War II in some of its operations around Central Luzon. An uncle of mine nearly became chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines losing out to Arturo Enrile (he was eventually named as Ambassador to Cambodia by the late Cory Aquino). And quite a few of my classmates entered the PMA or even joined the US Armed Forces.
That uncle of mine in the AFP served in Vietnam and in Mindanao but it was in Gattaran, Cagayan, where he nearly lost his life in 1986. That was the same ambush by communist guerillas that claimed the life of veteran photojournalist Willie Vicoy.
It was that incident that prompted an aunt as well as my father, among a few others, to put up the Alay Sa Kawal Foundation that not only helped wounded soldiers but also the families of the deceased. ASK also provided some form of entertainment for those in the battlefield. It was much like the USO Shows during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
No, this isn’t some reaction to the debacle that is Mamasapano. In fact, the germ of this idea took place two years ago after a visit to the V. Luna Hospital that left me thinking of a few passages from Walt Whitman’s “The Wound-dresser” that I first read as an impressionable youngster.
“Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead.”
With that in mind, I put together a proposal for a tie up between the AFP and the PBA where the former would not only provide an honor guard for the national anthem during the finals but also the All-Star Game. The PBA in return would also honor the wounded or disabled soldiers and their families with free seats during Araw ng Kagitingan (April 9) and Bonifacio Day (November 30).
The proposal took a backseat due to governmental red tape and my work. Recently, I found the right military contact in Colonel Arnulfo Burgos, who used to be the spokesman for the AFP but now only does so for the Army. We quickly hammered out some details.
Last Friday, April 17, I verbally brought this proposal of a tie-up to PBA Commissioner Chito Salud who immediately approved the idea. “No need for paperwork,” he enthusiastically said as he thought it was a marvelous idea. “It’s a done deal. It is the least we can do for our men and women in uniform.”
I called up Colonel Burgos with the good news and began working out the tie ups that would begin as early as the current PBA Finals – “should it reach a Game Seven” said the Commish – or as late as the Governors’ Cup.
Salud said that the PBA could provide some seats every Wednesday for the wounded or disabled soldiers as well as for some of their dependents every Wednesday aside from the other two noted holidays.
As part of this proposal, we are sending formal ideas to the PBA where maybe as part of their CSR program, they can make appearances or even give clinics to the children of our servicemen.
During a recent conversation with Barangay Ginebra point guard LA Tenorio who not only has been a good friend but was also my ambassador during my time with Gatorade, I let him in on the proposed project. Tenorio’s eyes glowed. “Sabi nila, kami sa national team nag-serve para sa bansa. Naku, maliit lang yung serbisyo namin kumpara sa mga sundalo natin. Napakalayo ng basketbol sa pagiging sundalo nila. Yun ang totoong buwis buhay. Tama lang na bigyan sila ng karangalan.”
How did I feel after Commissioner Salud approved it?
Elated is a massive understatement. I am glad to be the conduit for our league and our men in uniform. If this helps someone, anyone, then I am a happy man.
Hopefully, it becomes not only a PBA tradition but also one but for all local sporting events.
Hopefully, this provides more attention, awareness, or even gives a measure of pride to our servicemen.
Hopefully, this gives back to many people in many ways.
And here is the Commissioner’s message to the Armed Forces of the Philippines: “Sa lahat ng ating mga miyembro ng sandatahang lakas, ako po si Chito Salud ng PBA na malugod na inaanyayahan kayo na manood ng PBA. Alam po namin na malakas ang inyong suporta sa liga natin.
At bilang pagtanaw ng utang na loob sa inyo hindi lamang dahil sa suporta at dahil sa proteksyon na binibigay ninyo sa ating bayan, at dahil sa handa kayong ialay ang inyong buhay, hayaan niyo naman na kami ang mag-host sa inyo ngayong darating na third conference at sa mga araw na kung saan natin ipinagdiriwang ang kagitingan at katapangan ng ating mga bayani.”
Wow. When this does finally happen. When our countrymen all the more recognize the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. When that honor guard stands at attention for the playing if the national anthem… it’s my turn to have tears in my eyes.