MY  CORY  MEMORIES:  WHEN  SPORTS  STOPPED

MANILA, AUGUST 3, 2009
(PHILIPPINE STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - It was the day that sports stopped. I was seven years old. I woke up that morning, rushed down to watch television, hoping to catch a game or two. There was nothing on TV but static.

My mother explained to me what Martial Law was. For me, it was simply the time of no games.

I soon went back to my usual routine: swimming every day to get rid of my asthma; school, basketball and soccer. Eventually, other sports also entered my life, and I was hooked. But I never forgot that day, the day when play was impossible.

Fast forward to college. One Monday morning, having heard that Ninoy Aquino had been shot, I went to my first class at the Ateneo. I had just shifted from economics to communications, and hoped for a second shot at making the Blue Eagles. That day, the campus was deathly quiet and sober. I knew Ninoy was the uncle of my best friend, Vince Concio, son of Lupita Kashiwahara. I found him, speechless, wearing an “I Love Ninoy” shirt that obviously didn’t fit him anymore. The entire school community had been hit, still getting over Evelio Javier and other travesties.

Gradually, there seemed to be a return to normalcy, more or less. But now, it had an edge, as if we were all alert. And the games I loved alternately carried more or less weight than they did before. They meant more, because we needed a release, and escape from the gravity of events that were taking place. They weighed less because, in the grand scheme of things, they were, after all, just games.

When Ninoy’s body was brought to his modest home on Times Street, I joined Vince in providing a cordon against the simmering throngs who wanted a glimpse of what an unwanted government did to a man who represented courage and sacrifice to them. Still wearing his bloody bush jacket, Ninoy lay there, a symbol of all that was wrong with the Philippines then. Standing there, arms locked with Vince and other volunteers, mixing my sweat with the angry masses, I caught my first, fleeting glimpse of Cory, smiling meekly, with her inner steel just beneath the surface.

Then that quiet, smiling widow clad in yellow was making the headlines in a limited press, and a petition that gathered scores, thousand, then millions of signatures forced her hand. The next months were filled with upheavals, which would interrupt the illusion of normalcy.

Media was opening up, and games continued. Until Ted Koppel goaded Ferdinand Marcos into declaring snap elections.

For me, the games would never be the same again. I still played them, but with more purpose now. We each needed to become stronger in our own way, and give ourselves a chance to breathe out the tense atmosphere pervasive everywhere else.

Four very special days in February followed. I stood by Vince’s side at Gate 5 of Camp Aguinaldo. Our job was simple: feed the thousands there so they wouldn’t leave. And it was simple. Every time we used Cory’s name, it was magic. People fell in line, they quieted down, became more obedient. They wanted something better. They wanted to be better.

Later, she was formally enthroned in power, after a brief oath-taking at Club Filipino. Soon, she became a very different kind of president, one who stopped at red lights, who extolled common virtues. And I became a reporter, in the budding field of sports journalism. I would encounter Cory every so often, in work, as a very interested observer.

After all, as many did, I braved tear gas and bayonets to protect her.

Needless to say, the games returned, as did our pride at being Filipinos. And Cory’s inner steel was now on full display, a force for change the likes of which the world had never seen before, or since.

And for all of us who loved sport, she gave us permission to be great again, and to laugh and smile for the simple freedoms we had back.

When the immortal Olympic runner Paavo Nuremi died, his former teammate, by then president of Finland Urho Kekkonen said:

“When Nature removes a great man, people explore the horizon for a successor. But none comes and none will, for his class is extinguished with him.”

Those very words are apt for Cory Aquino, who did much more for our country than just bring us together for those four life-changing days in February, oh so many years ago.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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