THE city of Gingoog in far-away Misamis Oriental in Mindanao suddenly became a football center, at least last week-end as the city hosted the first leg of the 2016 Football For A Better Life (FFABL) series, and I was happy to be part of it.
You see I got a late invitation to join the Manila-based delegation that went there, led by chief organizer Albert Almendralejo and his nephew Argi Parreno, Elmer Centeno and RJ Estayola from main sponsor Pru Life UK, Ace Bright and Venus Fajardo, coordinators for the Azkals, and the trio of football stars, former Azkal skipper Chieffy Caligdong, current Azkal Misagh Bahadoran, who turned out to be a very funny guy, and Fil-Briton and Meralco player Graham Caygill whose mother hails from Agusan del Norte, where we first landed in Butuan Airport last Friday afternoon.
From Jollibee-Butuan, we went straight to the office of Gingoog Mayor Marie Guingona for an extended courtesy call that included going up to the next floor and the delegation asked to address a multi-sector meeting that was called to tackle the problem of rehabilitating the 2700 drug users who surrendered to the mayor, a problem facing so many LGU’s at present.
In our initial chat with Mayor Guingona, daughter of former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, she opined that it is high time that Filipinos shift to football where we can be more competitive compared to basketball, I had to explain that the Philippines is a true-blue basketball crazy where people celebrate a single win against 3 or 4 lost games, this happened at the FIBA World in Spain last year.
The truth was the good mayor spent practically the whole afternoon with the group as she hosted a beach side lunch for us at the beautiful Duka Bay Resort and even when Albert and the others left for a an overnight stay in Camiguin Island and only Misagh and I were left, we had a very long easy conversation with Mayor Guingona who used to play tennis and badminton before her duties as a mayor took up most of her time.
She also took the opportunity to remind Misagh of the latter’s promise to provide not only football shoes but other gear to two of her wards at Balai Pangarap, a shelter for street children in Gingoog and her favorite charity, it turned out that among the boys there, there were only two football playing kids, the rest were into basketball, and Misagh said he would definitely send his promised donation to the two boys.
A lot of the wards at Balai Pangarap were participants in the free football clinic earlier that day.
She really proved to be a congenial host and invited us to return there but stay longer, perhaps the only concern I felt that time was the presence of her armed body guards as she had received threats from local insurgents but then I guess that is already a given in such areas , just too bad that tourism in the area is not her priority as of now as she is focused on basic infrastructures like roads and water systems in areas even up in the mountains, though according to a park warden we met, there are three mountains that offer a challenge to local mountaineers, Mt. Balatukan on the top of the list.
There was also the Tiklas Waterfalls, only 20 minutes away from the city but we did not have the time to go there, plus good diving spots, the warden added.
Anyway, at that clinic held at the People’s Grandstand where kids came as far as Cagayan de Oro, Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte, Bukidnon, Malaybalay, Valencia, Camiguin, Cabadbaran, and El Salvador, the visiting football players were treated like rock stars with young and old people alike queuing for photo opportunities, actually, the night before where we were hosted by a former football player at his native restaurant Grahe, a very popular grill for local folks, the other restaurant guests were doing the same and even earlier than that when we went to the city hall, it was the same story. And Chieffy, Misagh, and Graham were all enjoying it to the hilt.
I am sure James Younghusband who was supposed to have planed early morning of the second day of the event was given even a bigger royal treatment by the local organizers, the Misamis Oriental-Camiguin -El Salvador Cagayan de Oro Football Association , I did not catch up with James because Saturday night, Misagh and I already left for Manila, taking an evening flight.
If Gingoog, certainly not a real football center or a sports power in the area could come up with that kind of response to the visiting football players, as there were more than 400 kids who joined both the clinic and the competitions, I am sure the other legs of the Football For A Better Life will get the same response, particularly in Iloilo, hometown of Chieffy.
This week end, Dumaguete takes its turn in hosting the second leg of the series with Chieffy to be joined again by Graham, Simone Rota, and local football hero Rex Cuaresma who has made it to the Azkals line-up already, to supervise the free football clinic schedule this Saturday at the Cimafranca Subdivision open field in Barangay Daro.
The other legs in the series will be held in Dipolog, Baguio, Laguna, Pagadian, Davao del Norte, and the culminating leg in Manila and I hope to join as many legs as I can, time permitting.