Better not bitter: Expect a lovely, enthralling SMC-PSA Awards night

by Dennis U. Eroa

TALK of starting 2024 right, and the 75-year-old Philippine Sportswriters Association just made the right move which will certainly lead to an explosion of joy in the country’s vibrant sporting scene.

There is no doubt that the prestigious group of sportswriters, most of whom accepted that they are not going to be on court heroes but will settle for dignified jobs as sports chroniclers, sometimes agitators hit the bullseye by selecting world-class pole vaulter EJ Obiena as Athlete of the Year.

EJ Obiena of the Philippines: [photo from EJ Obiena - Ernest Obiena Facebook page]
EJ Obiena of the Philippines: [photo from EJ Obiena – Ernest Obiena Facebook page]

Obiena, now ranked No. 2 in the world, weathered a lot of hurdles but thanks to his unmovable desire to put the Philippines into the world sporting map, dominated the Asian Games, qualified in the Paris Olympics after countless victories in the international circuit while not entertaining the precious idea of abandoning his Filipino citizenship.

Despite offers from other rich countries, Obiena did not do a Wesley So or Yuka Saso. He remains a Filipino by heart and deeds.

Yes, PSA’s guiding words for the Year of the Dragon is to be better not bitter.

Working behind the scene, I believe that the presence of De La Salle U and shipping magnate Terry Capistrano also worked wonders for Obiena’s rise. Capistrano, a man of few words, now head the athletics body.

I would like to congratulate a longtime friend and PSA President Nelson Beltran of the Philippine Star and the officers for making sure that the San Miguel Corporation-backed awards night on January 29 at the grand ballroom of the Diamond Hotel will be a huge success.

Ernie Gawilan splashes his way to a bronze medal in the 4th Hangzhou Asian Para Games swimming meet Monday night at the HOC Aquatic Arena. [PSC Media pool]
Ernie Gawilan splashes his way to a bronze medal in the 4th Hangzhou Asian Para Games swimming meet Monday night at the HOC Aquatic Arena. [PSC Media pool]

I am also delighted that the PSA made it sure that Para Athletes gems like Jerrold Mangliwan, Sander Severino, Ernie Gawilan, Ariel Joseph Alegarbes, Darry Bernardo, Menandro Redor, Henry Lopez, Angel Otom, Garry Bejino Cendy Asusano and Andrei Kuizon will be awarded.

To the oldtimers, however, it’s delightful that Allan ‘Triggerman’ Caidic and the departed Avelino ‘Skywalker’ Lim will be given the Lifetime Achievement Awards. And I am particularly glad that Fernando ‘Dong’ Libed, who for a while overshadowed Lim playing for Letran, will be honored by the PSA.

I remember that Libed, before his body was ravaged by drugs, sent the Rizal Memorial Coliseum into frenzy when he hit the winning shot for the Knights during the championship game. I was part of the mesmerized crowd.

Unknown to many, I facilitated Samboy’s meeting with a young fan from Mandaluyong. The girl was hit by a astray bullet in the head during a chaotic New Year’s celebration, while Caidic and I used to eat together in a well-known eatery along the UE Gastambide gate. Caidic, Jerry Codinera, Aaron Torres, Carlos Fermin, Godofredo Lim Uy, Henry Mortell, Boyzie Zamar and other Red Warriors became my friends as I was the sports editor of UE’s weekly college paper The Dawn under the highly-respected Jimmy Abriam Cantor.

The Dawn, of course, produced the likes of likeable Joe Antonio (Rest in Peace, sir), Ding Marcelo, Rey Bancod, Chito Manuel, Philip Evardone, Jun Lomibao, Rey Lachica, Jean Malanum among others who are sporting trailblazers.

Ka Recah Trinidad and wife Fe also played a crucial role in Samboy’s journey. We were closing the SportsFlash pages when Samboy fell headfirst after a daredevil attack to the basket off Codinera and Jojo ‘Mr Muscle’ Lastimosa and Aling Fe vigilantly followed Lim to the Makati Medical Center. Recah, of course, always pointed out the time during a big international tournament in Europe where he helped a vomitting, exhausted Samboy recover his bearing after shellacking giant opponents with double digit figures. Memories are forever, indeed.

Major sponsors of the awards night are the Philippine Sports Commission headed by Richard Bachmann, MILO, PLDT/SMART and Cignal TV and backed up by the Philippine Basketball Association, Premier Volleyball League, 1-Pacman Partylist Rep. Mikee Romero, and Rain or Shine.

Toots Carlos of the bemedalled Creamline Cool Smashers deserved to be given the volleyball plum. Thanks to Sports Vision headed by Ricky Palou, volleyball (women’s) is now a byword in the sporting community.

Others to be cited are Bianca Bustamante (motorsport), Philippine Boys Bowling Team, Mark Lester Ragay, Mark Anthony Polo, and Vincent Ventura (wushu), Team Bago City and Team Manila (softball), AP Bren (esports), Efren Bagamasbad (chess), Standard Insurance Centennial V (sailing), Kaila Napolis (jiu-jitsu), Darius Venerable (taekwondo), Rhichein Yosorez and Alyssa Mallari (muay thai), Kevin Pascua (obstacle course), and Veronica Ompod (powerlifting).

Double gold medalists Carlos Yulo of gymnastics will also be part of those to be cited in the Cambodia SEA Games, along with Olympians Eric Cray (track and field) Carlo Paalam (boxing), Nesthy Petecio (boxing), Kirstie Alora (taekwondo), Kurt Barbosa (taekwondo), among others.

It must be noted that gold medalists of the 19th Asian Games, 32nd Southeast Asian Games, Asian Para Games, and ASEAN Para Games will take centerstage.

For demonstrating the magic of fighting spirit and giving us more than a week of excitement and nerve-wracking action, Gilas Pilipinas will be cited. Hangzhou Asiad gold medalists Annie Ramirez and Margarita ‘Meggie’ Ochoa of jui jitsu and karate gold medalist Jamie Lim, daughter of Samboy, are also among the awardees.

The PSA will also remember posthumously sporting greats. They include two-time Olympian Tony Genato,1994 and top PBA rookie Emmanuel ‘Boybits’ Victoria and champion coach Loreto ‘Ato’ Tolentino are in the list.

PBA players Terry Saldana, Ricky Mariano, Rudy Enterina, and Manuel ‘Molet’ Pineda, former PBA chairman Rey Gamboa, Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP) president Ed Picson, former sports commissioner and national player and volleyball organizer Tisha Abundo, and father of youth baseball in the country and former congressman Rodolfo Tingzon will also be honored posthumously.

Football player Yoro Sangare will likewise be remembered along with boxer Kenneth Egano, Adamson deputy softball coach Estanislao ‘Sarge’ Terrones, former sports editor and columnist Nap Gutierrez, motoring host and columnist Butch Gamboa, and E-sports personalities Rob Luna, Charles Dave ‘Chad Devs’ Dela Pena, and Ivan Emmanuel ‘Navi’ Gacho.


Agriculture secretary Domingo Panganiban, who happens to be my ninong, recently initiated a reunion by members of the Masagana 99, a well-known ballclub during the Philippine Amateur Basketball League days. The event was held at Gerry’s Grill along Tomas Morato in Quezon City.

The Masagana 99 dribblers relive the golden years and it is satisfying to note that those present never lost their zest for life.

Panganiban exchanged jokes and happy memories with basketball mover Arlene Fajardo Rodriquez, multi titled coach Leo Austria, Joel Santos, Noni Robles, Onchie dela Cruz, Aldo Perez, Tony dela Cerna, Boy Aquino, Jojo Peralta,, John Lucas and Jimmy Marikit. Robles, Perez and Dela Cerna, of course, are sweet-shooters, while De la Cruz was a hard-nosed defender (ask the Big J) during their prime.

It’s true, kalabaw lang ang tumatanda.

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