The last time I watched the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics was in 1992. I was pregnant with my first child and bedridden. Those were pre-cable TV days and there was nothing much to choose from. It was the Olympics or those darn afternoon soap operas. I’m not a huge sports fan, obviously, although there was a time when I was. Then, I learned about politics and cheating in sports, especially in professional sports, and I lost interest.
Still, I found myself riveted when I chanced upon a replay of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I was so mesmerized that, for several minutes, I totally forgot why the Olympic games have long ceased to be just about competition, excellence and sportsmanship. The commercials reminded me that the Olympics were just another venue for making money. True for the sponsors and advertisers. True, too, for every host country that dreams of cashing in with the hope that the international media attention will boost their respective tourism industries. It’s true for the athletes as well many of whom dream of cinching endorsement deals even before the closing ceremonies have ended.
When I remember the times when “officials” outnumbered the athletes in the Philippine delegations to so many international sports events, the sour taste in my mouth grows stronger.
Jaded, am I not? But something happened last week that interrupted my jaded thoughts. I went to dinner with some college friends and they came back with me to see the new house. I was showing them the second floor when my older daughter, Sam, opened the door of the family room sleepily and handed me a piece of paper. Please print, she said. I knew she needed it for school the following day.
After my friends left a couple of hours later, there I was typing the document so I could print it. It was an essay in Filipino. Last week being Linggo ng Wika, I thought it was something for the closing program. What a surprise I got when the girls came home the following day with the announcement that the essay won third place. What was it about and why did it interrupt my jaded thoughts? Here’s a paragraph from the essay:
“Malayo na ang narating ng mga Pilipino. Maraming parangal na ang natanggap; marami nang medalyang naiuwi. Maraming beses na ring nabigo ang mga Pilipino. Nasa dugo na natin ang lumaban at hindi sumuko, tanggapin kung ano ang mayroon tayo, magpasalamat at makuntento. Marami na ring nagawa ang mga Pilipino na maipagmamalaki natin sa buong mundo tulad ng Banaue Rice Terraces na nagpapakita ng ating kasipagan, determinasyon at tiyaga ng bawa’t tao hindi man kilala sa buong mundo.”
(The Filipinos have gone far. Many have received honors; many have brought home medals. We have failed many times too. But it is in our blood to fight on and never surrender, accept what is ours, be thankful and feel content. The Filipinos have achieved a lot of things too that we can tell the world about with pride, like the Banaue Rice Terraces, that showcases the diligence, determination and patience of people whom the world may not know by name.)
That last sentence captures it all. Unknown men and women do things everyday, individually or collectively, and the world does not even hear of them. Yet, what they do are genuine sources of pride. They do not hanker for publicity, they do not ask for medals and they expect no riches. The Ifugaos of old who built the Rice Terraces could not have had fame and glory in mind. They persevered to survive and improve their lives and the result is a monument to their determination, skill and excellence. Despite my jaded mind, I suspect that they have their present-day counterparts –people for whom it is more important to do their best even when there is no crowd to cheer them on.
Many Filipinos compete and search for excellence every single day and very few know their names. Some compete in fields that do not even reach the eyes and ears of the publicity moguls and the corporate hawks who are always ready to sponsor a talent if there is a chance for favorable exposure and profit. How many have heard of Mary Christine Villanueva, Don Clavo de Comer, Joel Forte and the other Filipino photographers who are finalists in this year’s People’s Choice Award in the annual international photo contest sponsored by the Australian company, Snowden? Nine out of the 30 finalists are by Filipinos and the finalists come from all over the world. Ah, you’ve never heard of it. Not surprising.
If excellence achieved by fellow Filipinos is a source of pride for us all, then, we ought to know that there are more achievers and excellence-seekers beyond those that media and corporate sponsors tell us to idolize and support. Some of them may actually give deeper and more genuine meaning to the terms “excellence” and “national pride.” And they may even include you and me.