Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Soccer Story: Part 3

My other local soccer hero now is Ismael C. Batiles whom we call Mike. He is now the interim Vice President of the Philippine Football Federation. He said he volunteered to head a committee on good governance and transparency. The issue on financial irregularity, nothwithstanding ineffective and poor leadership were the issues why they voted for a no-confidence vote and ousted the incumbent president.

I've known Mike for more than 30 years and he belongs to a circle closest to me. He was and still is, also a steel journey man. Fresh from graduating from Western Institute of Technology with the degree in Chemical Engineering in 1978, he came to Iligan as one of the scholars of National Steel Corporation (NSC) who would pursue the newly opened Metallurgical Engineering course at Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. We would be classmates then, studying on a part time basis and they, as full time students. After that, he would pay back NSC and would stay with the company for almost 20 years. We would be together under Technical Division, Quality Assurance, he specializing in billet steel making and I with Cold and Hot rolling. From Process Metallurgist, he would moved on to become billet line supervisor and Sr. Supervisor, QA Head, and Billet Plant Manager. He was one of NSC's topnotch technical men as far as billet steel making is concerned. When the Malaysian firm Wing Tiek and later Hottic took over NSC, he was transferred to the Purchasing Division, a move which caught his surprise. When he asked why, because as he said he is a technical man, he was told by top management that they the only qualification they are looking for this position (who will be handling millions of foreign purchases) is a person with proven integrity. And without doubt, he suit that qualification. This is his trademark and reputation which friends and colleagues at NSC have known him for: competence and integrity.

We used to play a lot of basketball but I'm not sure if he plays soccer, but he sure know the game. Sometime in 1988, as president of our Supervisors Association (ISSAI), he and his board appointed me as chairman of the sports committee and that year, we launched a highly successful football tournament, featuring elementary schools within Iligan City proper. In coordination with NSC's Marketing Division, each team was sponsored by a galvanizing company who were customers of NSC. To my mind, it was the first and the last football tourney of its kind held in Iligan City.

When NSC closed shop in 1999, Mike pursued his scrap export business. He has toured the world, Europe, US and Asian countries looking for scrap to feed NSC's billet shop. with this technical and commercial background, in a short time, his scrap business was a thriving business. With trained assistants and procedures and policies in place, he longed for action. so he joined the fledging Bacnotan Steel Industries Inc.owned by the Phinma group in Calaca Batangas. It was a new billet steel making and rebar roling plant but early on, it was beset by both technical and financial burdens until it finally closed sometime in 2000 at the height of the Asian crisis.

Mike went back to Iligan and finally settled and based himself in nearby Cagayan de Oro. This is where he strated to become involved in football until this year when he was elected president of Cagayan de Oro Football Club. He loves football and he wants to be involved and make a difference in promoting this beautiful game.

They could just go on with their happy lives and forget the politics in football. Both are financially stable and living happy married lives. But football is their passion, in their blood. And so, when the controversy over the leadership of PFF will be settled soon which obviously will be in their favor, there is no doubt Philippine football will be on the right track. And like before all these years, starting when I was a kid kicking balls on the sidelines of the goals, I will just be on the sidelines, cheering, and continue wishing that someday, my long cherished dream will come true: to see live a World Cup Finals.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Soccer Story: Part 2- My Local Sports Heroes

My local soccer heroes come mostly from our “hometown” Barotac Nuevo in Iloilo who made a name for themselves and bringing pride to their hometown. They played and starred for the national team; many were named Mr. Football of the Philippines. They dominate the line-ups, year in and year out, of Army, Air Force, and Navy, and by placing all the time soccer in the Philippine map despite and inspite the lack of popularity of the sport in our basketball crazy country. They are indeed our Philippine All Stars in soccer. Two of my heroes are now in the limelight of the so-called “politics” hounding the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) which was brought to the attention of the nation following the recent triumph of the Philippine “Azkals” national team in the recently concluded AFF Suzuki Cup held in Vietnam. I am writing about them, perhaps as a tribute, because I am proud having them as a major part of my life’s journey.

The first is Mariano Valera Araneta, Jr., of the very prominent Valera-Araneta clan in Barotac Nuevo. His father and namesake, served as the longest mayor of this town. Nonong, as he is popularly called, is the “interim” president of the PFF, following the ouster of the then incumbent president in the PFF Congress held just last week of this November. Twent-six out of 33 presidents of local provincial football clubs voted for the ouster on grounds of “No Confidence” brought about by the alleged “misappropriation of PFF finances” after an official audit revealed the irregularity. I’ve known Nonong for a long long time. We were classmates in UP Iloilo High School. We played together, studied together, joined the singing group together, joined class boycotts together, and march to the streets together. We were in fact always seated next to each other in class.and during exams. We were the Mutt and Jeff tandem then. These past years, we would hold reunions with our Manila-based high school classmates, the most recent of which was last November 20, to celebrate our birthdays, his on the 9th and mine on the 17th. A naturally gifted athlete in many sporting events, there was no doubt then in high school that he would excel in sports, most especially the national game of Barotac, soccer.

After high school, he stayed the first two college years at UP Iloilo for his Civil Engineering course and instantly became the school’s star player, both in soccer and basketball. Then he moved to Diliman, and together with his equally talented elder brother, Tony, spearheaded UP’s emergence as a major and champion team in the UAAP. Tony would also later on become a mainstay of the national soccer team, named Mr. Footbal of the Philippines, and played in Germany’s Division II League. From 1975 to early 80’s, Nonong would play with the national team and at many times being its team captain. He would also play in the Philippines major
league teams like U-tex, and Air Force. He likewise also played at the same time varsity basketball in the UAAP, at one time, having been named a member of the UAAP mythical Team. When the PBA was first organized in 1975, his UP coach (I think it was Fely Fajardo) who was the coach of the Mariwasa team, offered him a shoo-in slot to play for the professional basketball league. He was already practicing with Mariwasa (and enjoying the perks, he would tell me) when he decided to concentrate to soccer and leave basketball. It was a decision I’m sure
he did not regret to this day. He was also one of the very few at UP who would be very active in varsity and national sports and graduate in Engineering. In the mid 80’s he retired from active football but still got himself involved in the sport, by acting as the national team’s head coach and later on as officer of the PFF. One other trivia unknown to many but which he himself personally revealed to me was the fact that he was a member of coach Joe Lipa’s UP coaching staff (as
trainerand at times coach when Lipa was not around) when UP Diliman for the longest time won the championship of the UAAP in 1986 behind Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanoc, and Eric Altamirano. For all his love for soccer and what the sport has given him, he wants to give football his due. He is now the president of Iloilo Football Club and during summers, he sponsors a football tourney held in Barotac for the kids. Sometime in 2003 or 2004, he was named by the PFF as one of the Philippine greatest football players. In July 2004, during our first ever high
school reunion at UP Iloilo, our class awarded him our highest “Oscars” award, the class MVP, for “having contributed much to his country, community, and Alma Mater, thereby giving honor and prestige to the Class.” As his partner, collaborator and “sidekick”, it was my privilege to extol his accomplishments and presentor of the award.

Nonong has in fact an indirect relevance to my steel journey. Back in our 3rd year high school, he mentioned to me that he has an uncle who works in a steel plant in Iligan. He said, during summer, they would go there and also pass by Zamboanga del Sur where they operate some fishponds in the towns of Siay and Kabasalan. But what interested me was the story about the perks and benefits his uncle was getting. At that age, free housing, free cars , etc. was fascinating.
Years later, fresh from college, I would be accepted at this plant, named National Steel Corporation. It was this Nonong’s uncle who in fact personally recruited us in school. His uncle is Antonio S. Valera, Resident Manager and the top honcho of the plant. For nearly 20 years, I would stay in this plant and the city, living on my steel career, making friends in and out of work, and most especially, finding there my true partner in life.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Soccer Story, Part 1

The latest achievement by the Philippine “Azkals” Men’s Team in the recent AFF Suzuki Cup held in Hanoi, Vietnam is perhaps the highest performance by any Philippine national soccer team in international competition. Fortunately, it made front page headlines, media commentaries and exposure, the kind of recognition it truly deserves but sadly not felt in the past. Except somewhere in the “land of my birth” which considers soccer, not basketball, as its national past time. No wonder, it is called, the hotbed of soccer where many national team players, past and present, come from. It is therefore, not just a coincidence that this victorious national team has in its line-up 7 players from Barotac Nuevo.

I come from a small town in Anilao, some 10kms. away from Barotac Nuevo, in Iloilo province, considered as the soccer capital of the Philippines. In many ways, by proximity, friends, relatives, trade, business, etc, Barotac is also our hometown. And being so, I kicked balls before I entered grade school just like the other kids in this town, and long, long before I could shoot basket balls. I remember in our youth and perhaps until now, a purok or barrio could
field a complete team on certain age groups. Different sections in every grade level would play each other as complete teams. Talk of grass root development.

In high school, we would play soccer in our Sportsfest along and against future Mr. Football of the Philippines. Varsity teams of major soccer-loving universities in Iloilo City would be composed mainly of Barotacnons with the rest coming from two other soccer loving places, namely the town of Sta. Barbara and La Paz district. Major teams like the Philippine Army, Navy, Air Force and UAAP school teams are dominated by players from Barotac. Having been exposed to the game early on, I know the game and its technicalities, recognize skills, strategy, etc., something many would not appreciate especially when they see a low scoring scoring 2-1 game and a 0-0 draw game. I can differentiate the playing style of defense oriented European teams like Italy against the free flowing go go game (which I like) of South American teams exemplified by Brazil and Argentina. I grew up idolizing Pele, Tostao, Falcao, Socrates, to Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, among other Brazilian greats, Franz Beckenbauer of Germany, Gordon Banks to David Beckham of England, and many many more. They are to me, soccer’s equivalent to Chamberlain, Russel, Bird, Majic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and other NBA greats. The European soccer leagues featuring Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, etc. of England, Real Madrid and Barcelona FC of Spain share equal if not more of my TV viewing time with LA Lakers, Miami Heat, Orlando Majic, Boston Celtics, etc.

Because I love and understand soccer, I could feel the passion of the whole world about it; a passion I’m not sure if it could be rubbed off on to basketball loving Filipinos.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On Birthdays and Running Scared

Saturday, December 4, Shing, the eldest of my long-time friend and colleague, Dan, celebrated her 30th birthday with an early morning run at the Cultural Center Complex along Roxas Boulevard in Manila. The run was followed by breakfast and fellowship at nearby Jollibee. With the party theme, “I’m running cuz it’s Shing’s 30th Birthday," it was planned to be a unique celebration. But it rained the whole evening till 6 the following morning, so the run became a walk.

Running Scared was the title of her Dad’s reflection, and a natural gifted speaker even during our younger days, Dan’s reflection mirrored the topics relevant to our personal life, business, career, and I think almost in anything we do. Personally, I believe, we need to run scared so that we will achieve our goals. Complacency in business doesn’t a room otherwise, competition will eliminate you. It is in short, a euphemism of continuous improvement. His illustration of our elementary story of the race between the turtle and the rabbit struck home the message. The rabbit was complacent, proud as my son Gabo described, while the turtle run and run scared and finished victorious. Early on in our life, we could have reflected on this simple but very meaningful moral.

Dan was a part of my steel journey. We were together recruited by National Steel Corporation right after our graduation---though he graduated from Central Philippine University and I, from University of San Agustin, both in Iloilo City. We are both Chemical Engineers. We came to Iligan City together, stayed in one house together, sang and played together, watched the girls together, and dreamed and breathed steel together. Now, we are in fact, a family. But while I
pursued my steel life until now, early on, after 5 years, Dan moved to Manila and pursued his Masteral in Business Management at the Asian Institute of Management and shifted his field to Finance and Economics. But his Engineering and Steel background and training made him more sturdy and adept at his new-found field.

Another guest and close friend who came was Don. Graduating at the top of his Mechanical Engineering class at Western Institute of Technology in Iloilo City, Don also found himself at National Steel Corporation. We started our professional journey together just like Dan in April 1976, right after our respective graduations. Two years later, he was transferred to Pasig when our company bought the Elizalde-owned tin plate plant. While working at Pasig, he pursued his Masters in Business Management at UP Diliman. After finishing his post graduate studies, he joined Philippine National Bank, shifting his career from Engineering to Banking and Finance, though he always insists that his training at NSC has significantly helped him in his career. In the early 90’s, he was assigned to head PNB in London. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted as Managing director and Head of PNB Europe. He retired a few years ago and is now into mining and power plant business with his foreign partners. Dan and Don are just two of my closest friends whose bond is eternal, which started many years ago when we found ourselves journeying to steel life.