Pangasinan’s post-Palaro promise to keepBy Percy D. Della
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SACRAMENTO, California—Pangasinan unfurls this year’s edition of the Palarong Pambansa on May 7 vowing to be on the lookout for young athletes with great potential to become champions on the world stage—long after the national youth game is over.
The province, among the wealthiest in the nation, has turned the Narciso Reyes Sports Complex and Civic Center in Lingayen City from a cluster of drab, unkept buildings into a modern sports hub. It is primed and ready for a beachhead of sorts, the biggest since Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Lingayen Gulf landing in 1945 to reconquer Luzon from Japanese hands.
An invasion force of 7,000 young warriors and their officers from the country’s 17 regions has arrived, their battles on several sports fronts—Olympic or otherwise—to be broadcast and streamed in real time by an army of techies and their gizmos.
This year’s digital Palaro ups the ante for future hosts of the event, whose goal remains unchanged since 1948: To show urgency for primary and high school kids and to teach them the value of sports as a metaphor for life.
Pangasinan’s Palaro is living the do-gooder’s dream; it is flush with cash made possible by the alliance between a well-off host and the Department of Education. At least P200 million, possibly more, has been plowed into facilities improvement, pre-regional and regional sports competitions, training subsidies, a social media center, etc. Turning this investment into transformational change for sports is not as much fun as it sounds.
The week-long Palaro, churns out promising athletes, mostly poor young men and women who find out soon enough that their quest for the stars is hindered by lack of government funding and support. Given the country’s so-so showing in the Asiad, the debacle even in the inferior Southeast Asian Games, and its failure to qualify as many athletes as possible for this year’s London Olympics, critics won’t find it flippant to tag this year’s Palaro as another expensive dog and pony show put up by the state and Pangasinan.
Worse, it was commonplace in the past for the host province to let its sports facilities to go pot after its coming-out party is history.
Not in our backyard, not on our dime, promises Raffy Baraan, a trusted lieutenant of Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino.
Baraan, the provincial administrator, says the governor believes in continuity. “The Palaro will not stop here after the games. The Ramos complex will continue to make a difference and will become a sports academy to train and develop athletes,” Raffy told me by e-mail.
Raffy, however is short on specifics about the planned sports school. If it is any indication, he says, Espino is a stickler for maintenance and has kept Lingayen’s government center in Lingayen, including the Ramos complex in tip-top shape and running after inheriting the buildings in “various stages of dilapidation and disrepair” from previous administrations.
Pangasinan runs on an annual budget of 2.4 billion pesos. Earmarking a small percentage of that outlay to keep the complex humming for local athletes won’t be a problem, assures Raffy, who was unclear whether the academy will be open to all comers as well.
The province’s big bang theory is not geeky; it’s simple. There is urgency to help sharpen the competitive edge of athletes aching for prime time, a chore often neglected by a national government perceived as big and bad, with little money to spare for sports as a tool for nation building.