Lapating’s quest for sports excellence

By Herbert Vego

WHO hasn’t heard of Dr. Raymundo A. Lapating?

I bet everybody in both the city and province of Iloilo have not only heard of him; they have heard him speak out his mind on essential matters, including sports.

Having retired as Schools Division Superintendent of Iloilo – a position he held for 18 years (1994-2012) – he could have rested on his laurels to devote his time to business, a medical laboratory which he and his physician wife, Dr. Hope Palmares-Lapating, run in Passi City.

But he is not really retired from public life in the real sense of the word. He is still the Executive Director of the province’s Center for Sports and Physical Fitness.

It was former lloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. who appointed him to that post in 2014, knowing he would fit the position snugly, having served as secretary general of the Palarong Pambansa held at the Iloilo Sports Complex in 1991, and again in 2005.

“Sports is my total life,” he says in his introduction to Philippine Sports in Quest of Excellence, the book he has just finished writing.

How could his better half disagree when she had been a competitive tennis player in her school days?

Sir Ray’s interest in sports dates back to his childhood when he had to walk for several kilometers to reach a basketball court on which to play with friends. In those years, not enough facilities were available for the youth to develop their motor skills.

The opportunity to share his “basket” beckoned when St, Vincent Seminary asked him to be head coach of the school’s secondary basketball team in 1977-80.

With his coaching experience in mind, he buckled down to write his book on the world of sports with 11 chapters filling 118 pages.

“As a sports coach,” he writes, “one is entrusted the noble duty of nurturing the total development of athletes.”

He looks forward to that day when a bachelor’s degree in Sports Coaching would materialize.

Having read the draft of the book which is yet to be released, I would like to share a few insights on what makes it a must reading for sports organizations, sports officials and school educators tasked to turn students into outstanding athletes.

During the early days of his work as Iloilo’s sports czar, Dr. Lapating devised a “sports road map” of sports training covering five phases – ideation, start-up, gearing-up, reaching-out and “go for gold” within a timetable of five years. The phases, initiated in 2014, ended in 2018, by which time the province would have produced athletes prepared for national and international competitions.

Lapating’s office was gearing to mobilize 32 community-based training centers for sports and physical fitness in most municipalities with financial support from the Iloilo provincial government. Each center would discover and tap potential athletes in cooperation with sports clubs.

Sad to say, the Covid-19 pandemic has set back the aforesaid “road map”. But Lapating remains confident that the example shown by Hidilyn Diaz winning gold medal in women’s weightlifting competition at the Tokyo Olympics would finally alert the Philippine government into maximizing support for Filipino athletes here and abroad.

Somebody has commented in the social media, “It took a Hidilyn to beat China.”

Hidilyn’s is the only Olympic gold medal earned by the Philippines in 97 years, since the country first joined the Olympics in Paris in 1924.

It was poetic justice for our country that has been bullied by China over its occupation of our territories at the West Philippine Sea.

I vividly remember the two events when two Filipino boxers fought for gold in different Olympics but lost and settled for silver — Anthony Villanueva in the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco in the Atlanta, Georgia 1996 Summer Olympics.

Both Villanueva and Velasco eventually turned into movie-acting for a living but with little success.  Villanueva died poor in 2014.

The luckier Velasco was belatedly honored by the Office of the President for his Olympic feat with the Order of Lapu-Lapu, plus a financial gift of P500,000 in August 2021.

The emergence of Manny Pacquiao as world champion in professional boxing proves the capacity of Filipinos to excel in certain sports. There are no doubt hundreds of aspiring pugilists who want to follow his footsteps.

The poor athletes passionate in their chosen field, Lapating writes, “would participate in higher level of games even without running shoes.”

Certainly, like Manny who had experienced poverty, they deserve more than running shoes. Their plight magnifies government negligence that could fortunately be reversed through proper allocation of funds by sports organizations created by law, such as the Philippine Sports Commission, Philippine Olympic Committee and the Games and Amusement Board in collaboration with the Department of Education.

Unfortunately, on the other hand, as Lapating himself reveals in his book, while the bulk of the annual budget received by the Philippine Sports Commission is good enough for its operational expenses, “the amount for training of athletes is negligible.”