I write this at 1:29AM, Friday morning. The TV is on channel 5, where the rest of the Sochi Olympics’ Men’s Ice Skating Short Program is being aired live—the longest I have stayed on any TV5 program ever. Michael Christian Martinez has qualified for the free program happening Friday night (tonight), and by the time this piece is published, we will know how high he has placed out of 24 athletes, or if he’s taking home a medal.
Seeing as there was a Japanese skater who scored 101 points out of 100, and Michael scored a 64.81 that ranked him at 19 out of 24, one cannot be too optimistic about tonight’s free program. And yet one can only truly be optimistic about this boy’s future on the ice, where watching him on Olympic ice now, can only really be a sign of things to come for this 17-year-old.
Michael is the first Filipino and first Southeast Asian figure skater to compete in the Winter Olympics. Look at his scores in competitions since 2012, find that his rise has been nothing short of magnificent, given where he comes from, and knowing what he has to go through to compete.
We must cheer him on, and celebrate him, regardless of how he places in Sochi. And that should translate to real and actual assistance, in the sense that he needs it most.
It was of course easy to imagine that this government, via its Philippine Sport Commission (PSC) did not support this boy. After all, we didn’t hear any noise at all about a Philippine representative to the Winter Olympics—an extraordinary enough feat to make the news. We heard about it only when Michael and his mother were already there, when he carried the Philippine flag as the lone representative of OUR nation.
And then there was the interview that Michael and his mother Teresa gave The Catholic Register, where they talked about turning to prayer in times of need, when there was no money for a coach for Michael, but there he was competing. The piece mentions the development corporation that owns skating rinks in the Philippines providing Michael with $22,000 and the Philippine Skating Union giving him some $11,000. Teresa mentions that it seems “the President doesn’t know there’s a Filipino skating in the Olympics,” and that her house is mortgaged.
We were quick to judge of course: no support from Philippine government! Just as we imagine! We wondered where the PSC’s million-peso budget actually goes; we imagine the worst because while the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) website will tell us how much money is allocated for the PSC, it is as always unclear how this lump sum is broken down to provide for athletes’ needs.
But the PSC has since redeemed itself—or so it thinks —by saying that in fact the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) gave Michael $6000 in November 2013, and from July to October 2013, $1000 for allowance. It also says with pride: the mother and son have another $6000 waiting for them when they get home from Sochi Russia—they applied for it only in December, it was only processed in January, and that’s why it was released when the mother and son were already in Russia. The POC also gives Michael a $50 a day allowance while he’s competing in Sochi, and they’re shouldering his mother’s accommodation expenses as well.
There’s some $7200 for Martinez’s coaching team, which apparently came from the PSC itself.
Money aside, the question has to be this: why are we dealing with a non-government organization like the Philippine Olympic Committee, instead of government’s Philippine Sports Commission?
See, the horrible thing we have discovered here is the bureaucracy that would bog down any athlete who dreams of taking home a medal from any international competition. Apparently, Michael and his mother have to go through the Philippine Skating Union (PSU) for their requested amount, then the PSU will pass it on to the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) which will then raise the funds, with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) as one of its possible sources.
As one of its possible sources. Which means that the POC is responsible for finding funding for Olympic representatives, and the PSC can give as much or as little as it might? We’re talking about a Philippine Sports Commission that had a P207 million budget in 2013? That bragged about P300 million in savings in 2013? And received another P504 million in remittances from PAGCOR?
Where does all that money go? Why must funding for athletes be disbursed via the NGO that is the POC? How in the world is this system acceptable?
Too: if the POC is responsible for finding funding for our Olympic representatives, then is it even right for the PSC to claim the POC’s assistance fund as its own? The PSC was speaking as if Michael was getting support from them, when in fact it was the POC that can claim to have raised these funds for Michael.
In truth it is unkind to all athletes. The bureaucracy is such that athletes competing under the Philippine flag are given their funding after the fact. It is unkind that there is no one quick and easy way of getting funding, especially for athletes of good standing, and who deserve not to worry about money while they’re in competition. It is strange that we would ask our lone ice skating champion, the first in all of Southeast Asia to compete in the Winter Olympics, to go through this process that certainly he did not have the time for.
Because that was part of the surprise that was Michael: his foreign coaches expected him to qualify for the Winter Olympics in 2018. Instead he qualified for this year.
What a travesty to have expected him to go through this process just because it is protocol.
And the bigger travesty? The Philippine Sports Commission claims that it is its adopt-an-athlete program that has given Michael a godfather in Hans Sy, SM Prime President, who has been funding him, too. This is a sports commission that has a P207 million budget. Why exactly does it need to have the private sector spend on athletes? Again, where does this money go?
Ultimately hearing Michael’s story, and even more so looking at his scores in competitions since 2012, one can’t help but wonder why we can’t afford to be kinder to, more supportive of, him. And no I’m not just talking about the PSC and this government, I mean the rest of us who imagine that ice skating is not worth funding because we’re a tropical country after all. I mean a media enterprise like GMA News Online deciding to discredit Teresa’s claim on mortgaging her house, or Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda saying there is no record of Teresa sending a letter to the President asking for assistance.
Seriously? That news report that had a conversation with officials of the PSC and POC could have discussed how exactly an NGO plays such a huge role in funding athletes like Michael. That article could have looked into how Teresa did say they got $11000 from the PSU; where exactly did PSU get those funds? That article could have to discussed the dynamic among PSU, POC and PSC, and how exactly this three work together to fund athletes like Michael.
More importantly, no one needed to discredit Michael’s mother at this point, practically calling her a liar about saying that she has mortgaged her house, because there is no proof of it in the registry of deeds. Writer and advocate Raymond Alikpala wrote a comment about it on my Facebook wall: “I too am shocked by this news story. The mortgage does not have to be registered on the title for it to be legal and binding. It could be a personal agreement between the mother and the mortgagor, and that it is a valid contract enforceable by the courts. The only difference if it is not registered on the TCT is that it is not binding on third persons.”
Exactly. But too, why choose to be unkind, when these stories could have been told after Michael had competed. Run these stories on Sunday. Mention you’ve interviewed the POC and PSC officials and they have said they assisted Michael, but that’s it. Why go as far as discrediting his mother, she whose job it has been to keep her son on that ice too, no matter how much it costs, no matter that she will get support from government only after years of doing it on her own?
I say that to GMA News Online, and to Secretary Lacierda. But also we wonder about a Philippine Olympic Committee and a Philippine Sports Commission that choose to support our lone athlete in the Winter Olympics by calling his mother out two days before competition, about funding that can only be insufficient.
One realizes: we don’t begin and end by giving our athletes the financial support that they need. We begin and end with kindness. Michael’s magical story teaches us that. One wonders when we might learn it.