A group of Australians who visited here in the Philippines went to a garbage disposal place. Small children ran over and greeted them with all smiles. One member of the group broke down and cried. When asked about the incident she said “I lived my whole life in a nice home, nice clothes and a good paying job, but I wasn’t happy and here I am in a place where basically garbage became their homes and could barely afford decent slippers and they all came out happy and smiling…”
Filipinos are basically happy people because they always find a reason to be happy. Poverty is never a reason to give up. And many found inspiration on athletes who strived to succeed in spite being poor.
Manny Pacquiao embodies the inspiration and adulation of his countrymen because he is a growing symbol of success in spite the struggles of the nation. Allow me to enumerate the top ten Best Filipino athletes of all time.
10. Carlos Loyzaga – Basketball has always been the number one sport in the Philippines. You go basically everywhere and you can see basketball courts from all corners to fiber glass and sophisticated ones, down to makeshift cardboards. Carlos “The big difference” Loyzaga stands only 6-foot-3 but plays the center position. He stirred the Philippine national team to a bronze medal finish in the 1954 FIBA world championship. It was the highest rank in any Asian team throughout the history of the tournament.
9. Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco – Before Manny Pacquiao, boxing wasn’t a main attraction sport here in the Philippines. Onyok delivered the first jab before Pacquiao finished everything. Mansueto ended the 32-year drought set by Anthony Villanueva (silver medal) in the 1964 Olympics by winning his own medal, although Velasco only won the bronze medal, but it was much better than nothing. The Philippines still needs another Villanueva’s and Velasco’s out there, and who knows this might be gold in the making.
8. Pancho Villa – real name Francisco Guilledo, stands only five-foot-one who fought 104 fights and died at a tender age of 23. He was considered the greatest flyweight of the century for becoming the first Asian world boxing champion. Unfortunately, he died from complications following a tooth extraction in July 14, 1925.
7. Eugene Torre – The Asia’s first grandmaster in Chess in 1974 at the age of 22 and appeared in the Chess Olympics 20 times equaling Lajos Portisch of Hungary, who also played 20 Olympiads.
6. Lydia De Vega – Lydia was the Asia’s fastest woman in 1980’s. She won the gold medal in the 1982 New Delhi Asiad 100-meter dash and 1986 Seoul Asiad. Unfortunately, Lydia had to look for a job elsewhere since there wasn’t any decent offer for her to stay. She is currently Singapore’s track and field coach.
5. Francisco “Django” Bustamante – The world’s number one billiard player in 1998. He had 34 local and international medals, including the 2001 World pool masters and his recent 2010 World 9-ball Championship in Doha, Quatar. He holds the world record for having the most powerful break shot. The 47-year old Bustamante still plays professional billiard tournaments up to this day.
4. Gabriel “Flash” Elorde – The name I never would forget. My favorite bread was named after him, called “Elorde”, shaped in boxing gloves.
After Pancho Villa, Elorde was the most popular boxer in the Philippines. He was dubbed as the greatest world junior lightweight boxing champion in WBC history. He defended his belt for ten bouts in a span of four years making him the longest reigning champion ever on his division. He became the only Asian to be inducted into the International boxing hall of fame. Elorde died of lung cancer at the age of 49. His two grandsons are also professional boxers.
3. Efren Bata Reyes – The best billiard player of all time. Reyes was known as the “magician” had won numerous international awards, including five 8-ball championships, and 100 international awards. Efren still plays professional billiards up to this day.
2. Manny Pacquiao – The current pound per pound king of boxing. Manny is the only fighter that won eight different division belts in boxing. The fighting congressman of the Philippines has yet to find his true match in Floyd Mayweather Jr. Manny is scheduled to fight his arch nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time this November. Hopefully, a match with Floyd will happen early next year.
1. Rafael “Paeng” Nepomuceno – Paeng is a six time World bowling champion. He was the youngest to win a World cup at the age of 19. He is the only bowler in the world, who has the most Bowling world cup wins and won the most the number of bowling tournament titles (120). He was also the first international male bowling athlete to be enshrined in the International Bowling Hall of Fame. He was the only Filipino athlete who has been given the highest award to three Philippine presidents. Paeng is still an active bowler up to this day at age 54.
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