THERE was a time when billiards was up there with basketball and boxing in terms of popularity in the country.

That was when the Philippines was constantly producing world pool champions.

Efren "Bata" Reyes was considered to be bigger than the game in the world pool circuit and seeing him winning the World 9-Ball Championship in Cardiff, Wales in 1999 cemented his status as one of the world's best.

He has become more than just a money player. He is a world champion.

Reyes' star shone even brighter when he added the World 8-Ball title five years later and it opened the floodgates for more Pinoy cue artists to make their presence felt in the international scene.

Then came Ronato "Ronnie" Alcano.

A year after winning the World 9-Ball crown in 2006, Alcano made it two in a row by capturing the 2007 World 8-Ball crown.

Then, there's Francisco "Django" Bustamante, Bata's "kumpadre", who finally bolted out of his more illustrious peer's shadow and won the 2010 World 9-Ball Championship.

Dennis Orcollo made his mark the following year when he won the World 8-Ball title, further solidifying the Filipinos' dominance in the sport.

Alex Pagulayan, who was born in Isabela, topped the World 9-Ball Championships in 2004 but he represented Canada in the tournament.

There are other Filipinos who made a name in the international billiards circuit like Jose "Amang" Parica, Jeffrey De Luna, Antonio Gabica, Marlon Manalo, Lee Van Corteza and Roberto Gomez, the runner-up in the 2007 World 9-Ball Championships.

The last Filipino to probably make his presence felt in the world circuit was Carlo Biado, who ruled the World 9-Ball Championship in 2017.

But the pool world is not just for men.

Rubilen Amit ruled the Women's World 10-Ball Championship in 2009 held in Manila, then won another one four years later. On top of being the most recognized Pinay cue artist in the world, she also won gold medals for the country in the Southeast Asian Games eight times in different categories: 8-ball, 9-ball singles and doubles events.

A rising star by the name of Chezka Centeno of Zamboanga City is following Amit's footsteps.

Chezka is a four-time SEA Games gold medalist and a regular campaigner in the world pool circuit.

There was a time, too, when the Philippines became the world's hotbed of billiards.

Several times the country hosted the World 9-Ball and World Ten Ball Championship and put up several international invitational events fans loved and embraced.

Basketball, no doubt, is still the most popular sport in the Philippines. Manny Pacquiao has likewise elevated boxing's popularity to the next level. But billiards has been left behind.

Although 'The Magician' can still put on a show and can still draw a full-house, he is not getting any younger.

There was a time when people packed the pool house and emulated the magical trick shots of Bata Reyes.

All of these were just great memories and worth rekindling.

The Billiards and Snooker Congress of the Philippines needs to be revitalized.

Billiards needs a solid development program and continuity so we can find the future Bata, Django and Rubilen.

Although billiards is not included in the Olympic Games, this is one sport where Filipinos can excel and be world champions.

As the country continues to savor our glory by winning the first ever Olympic gold made possible by Hidilyn Diaz, I believe it is high time to put up the right people who have the will and the dedication to develop the sport and produce more world champions.