MANILA,  July 24, 2004
BUSINESS & LEISURE By Ray Butch Gamboa  -  I lost sleep over that TV coverage of the finals of the World 9-Ball Championship that was held last Sunday in Taiwan. But it was all worth it.

I followed that tournament almost in its entirety, passionately rooting for our Pinoy bets, sometimes all by myself and startling my wife whenever I would suddenly yell, "Yes!" when a hard shot is made by any of our compatriots. After explaining to her how the game goes, there were already dual resounding shouts of, "Yes!!" filling the room.

Knowing that aside from practical shooting, poker was really closest to his heart, I was surprised to see my friend and SWS top honcho Mahar Mangahas with his wife Tetes on the TV coverage. I even texted Mahar to say that he was very visible on the screen, which probably made him make himself look more distinguished-looking as he already was while he texted me back to invite me over to Taiwan to also personally watch the games and give full support for our kababayans who were dueling with the best of the world’s pool players. Also a sight to see was other Pinoys, most of them probably working in Taiwan, cheering for their countrymen. I guess this is now a common sight wherever in the world they may be another plus for our OCWs.

But heartbroken I was when I got wind of the sad news that two of our best hopes, Efren "Bata" Reyes and Francisco "Dianggo" Bustamante were eliminated by a fellow Filipino who’s indeed another local cue artist to watch – Marlon Manalo, either by a stroke of ill fate or by the "convenient pairings" made by the host organizers.

Sorry, the Pinoy in me came out there in that last statement. I guess the "pag natalo, dinaya" syndrome is indeed infectious. But many suspect the pairings as behind the top Pinoys’ debacle in that tournament. The ‘convenient" pairings seemed to have made sure that the Pinoys knock each other out. But I would give the organizers more credit than to use that hometown advantage to its fullest.

But whatever, that was how the story went, or so it appeared, going into the finals. The Pinoys were made to play against fellow Pinoys while the locals were pitted against everybody else except against each other. In the odd process there was only one Pinoy-looking participant left standing and what heartbreak, he was not even playing for the Philippines, but for Canada. (Did I hear someone ask if he is a long-lost brother or son or Xerox copy of the PBA commissioner?)

The "come from behind" victory of the 2004 World Pool Champion who’s a Canadian citizen of pure Filipino descent was indeed sweet and hard-fought. But what was more heartwarming and really inspiring was his flag-waving victory speech where he said with unguarded pride that despite having another citizenship, he’s still a 100-percent Pinoy.

Here we are, facing a looming financial crisis after one of the most expensive, if not "the" most expensive elections as many people claim to have seen. Here we are, with a yellow streak, as what some countries would say in whispers, after reneging on our word of support for the war in Iraq. Here we are with parents, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters who would rather face the prospect of danger and abuse in foreign shores than let the family face empty plates on the table. Here we are with all the perceived imperfections of a nation, a culture, a people and yet we see a world champion, while basking in glory before the eyes of millions of people watching television around the world, proudly declaring that he considers himself a "one hundred percent" Pinoy. Alex Pagulayan – you almost made me cry.

Mr. Pagulayan, you not only brought us glory but you also made us feel more esteemed for being Filipinos as we watch you proudly tell the world at your moment of triumph and jubilation that you are indeed a full blooded Pinoy – we salute you Kabayang Alex.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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