The Philippine Sports Museum: a hidden treasure

A non-descript sign outside pales in comparison to the treasures hidden within its walls (Photo: Noel Zarate)

In my quest to obtain photographs for several articles involving the glory of Philippine basketball, former Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Executive Director Joaquin “Chito” Loyzaga (yes, the former basketball stalwart) advised me to visit the library of the PSC in Manila. The arduous task of boarding two trains—and two long walks in between—to arrive there was supposed to be worth the voyage as I was expecting to be thrust into the heritage of Philippine sports and hence my journey should result in a fruitful uncovering of archives past.

When I arrived at the PSC, however, I was informed that the library merely contained a various set of documents pertaining to the past. I was also told by a senior sports writer that the vast majority of photographic antiquity of Philippine sports was literally washed away by several floods that befell the complex in the past decades. Thinking my efforts were now futile, I was introduced to PSC Support Services staffer Nancy Gonzales who informed me about the Philippine Sports Museum. Gonzales, an eighteen year veteran of the PSC, was in fact a little apprehensive about revealing the existence of such a place since it is still not fully set-up.

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It was quite a foot trek from the PSC offices to the Sports Medicine building on the other side of the compound, but after a good chat to acquaint myself with my newfound sports ally, we arrived. As the national badminton team was busy with their conditioning program in the background, we obtained the keys to the place and after a ascending a short flight of stairs, Gonzales flicked open the main electrical power switch…and the entire history of Philippine sports was before me.

The first image—or set of them—that greets the visitor is the Wall of Fame. According to Gonzales, its members were selected in 2010. The “Wall” itself made me feel humbled to be in its presence as trapped in time were the pictures of such greats as Simeon Toribio, Teofilo Yldefonso, Miguel White, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Carlos Loyzaga and his 1954 World Basketball Championships bronze medal winning squad from the Rio de Janeiro tour of duty.

"The Wall of Fame", an initial tribute to the heroes of Philippine sports (Photo: Noel Zarate)

Turning into the first corner were memorials to bowling greats such as Paeng Nepomuceno, Bong Coo and Arianne Cerdeña—the first ever Philippine Olympic gold medallist albeit in a demonstration sport held in the 1988 Seoul Olympiad. Then came the Equestrian section where the disarming smile of the lovely Mikee Cojuangco practically lit up the exhibit. Eric Buhain’s classic victory pose at the 1991 Manila SEA Games opens the swimming exhibit area and competition photos of now PSC Commissioner Akiko Thomson brings the visitor back to the heyday of Philippine swimming dominance in the region.

The Equestrian Wall featuring Mikee Cojuangco (Photo: Noel Zarate)

Several wings dedicated to the early rise of the Philippine athlete are also highlighted such as Anthony Villanueva’s historic run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where he gave the country its first ever Silver Medal, losing in the final bout to Stanislav Stepashkin of the Soviet Union. Speaking of silver medals, an entire wall is also erected to commemorate the last Filipino athlete to bring home an official medal for the Philippines in Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco who many expert felt was robbed of the gold medal in his championship fight against Daniel Petrov of Bulgaria during the 1996 Atlanta Olympiad. The actual boxing garb Onyok donned on that fateful day is among the displays at his exhibit area.

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The "Onyok" corner (Photo: Noel Zarate)

The Olympic wing pays homage to even those who received Olympic medals but were not included in the official medal tally such as Bea Lucero and Stephen Fernandez for Taekwondo in the 1992 Barcelona games and the massive yet unexpected medal haul of Willy Wang, Mary Jane Estima, Benjie Rivera and Marian Manalo during the 2008 Beijing Olympics Wushu competitions. Of course, the stalwarts of the first sorties of the country were also honoured such as Toribio, Yldefonso, White and the grandfather tandem of Jose and Anthony Villanueva. Boxers Leopoldo Serrantes and Roel Velasco also have memorabilia displayed at the wing.

Among the sites at the Philippine Sports Museum is the Olympic Hall (Photo: Noel Zarate)

Basketball, however, still remains the nation’s passion but it was surprising to see that basketball and softball shared a section. Maybe perhaps despite the popularity of hoops in the country, it shares practically the same number of accolades as our sisters on the diamond? That, of course, is just an assumption on my part.

Baseball and basketball share a section (Photo: Noel Zarate)

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Gonzales noted that many athletes have yet to be notified of the existence of the Museum and the PSC is still awaiting more contributions from them—in terms of lending their valuable hardware and pictures. The wings involving the Philippines’ conquests in the SEA Games and the Asian Games are still being enhanced and it won’t be long before everything is in place.

The uniform worn by Enrique Beech at Melbourne '56, at the time the country's oldest surviving Olympian (Photo

The Philippine Sports Museum is not yet officially open to the public, but a visit to the Support Services Office, which is located at the 3rd floor of the PSC building through Ms. Gonzales can arrange private viewings of what has already been put together—which is already astonishingly plenty. It is truly a breath-taking collection of artefacts and memories of the glory days of Philippine sports. It’s such a pity most of the pictures that captured the action from the past have been eradicated, but the Philippine Sports Museum offers a nostalgic glimpse of battles past. This will get bigger once the word gets out.

A rare shot of two time Olympic bronze medalist Teofilo Yldefonso in his military garb (Photo: Noel Zarate)

If any athletes or families of athletes past are reading this, the Museum is looking forward to your help to showcase Philippine sports in a way that the average Filipino can appreciate. I will post here once there is an official opening date for the Museum. For now, we can arrange a visit and reminisce. It was indeed a captivating experience. I will surely take it all again very soon…

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter: @NoelZarate