In defense of anyone who wears the Azkals/Malditas’ colors

(In light of the many Filipino ba sila comments I’ve read lately, I’m reposting this column I wrote back in 2011 when another writer, my former boss, said the Azkals were instant Filipinos. The original title of this post is Azkals and the Filipinos.)

Columnist Jerry Tundag raised quite a ruckus when he wrote that he never got onboard the Azkal train, not because football is just a passing interest but because he “cannot relate to those who he knows to be Filipinos just now.”

That last statement is what pisses off most fans and a lot of colorful words were used against Sir Jerry, who was then the Associate Editor when I started my career at The Freeman.

TITAS AND LOLAS. Questioned because of their looks and surnames, the Filipinas are as Pinays as your favorite titas and lolas who now live abroad.

Just because the media is talking about the Azkals now doesn’t mean the team popped out of nowhere, with a blend of instant players from all corners of the world.

Instant fixes are for politicians seeking election, not for sports.

I disagree with what Sir Jerry wrote because the Azkals are not instant Filipinos, and you can’t play for the national team if you are not Pinoy. And these are our countrymen by blood, none of them are naturalized citizens like how some countries fuse strong players to their squad.
Besides who is—or isn’t Filipino—doesn’t depend on how, or when, one becomes aware of them, right?

To call them Filipinos just now is an affront to their parents. It’s like saying those who left the country should stop calling themselves Filipinos.

Sir Jerry isn’t actually alone in that observation and I’ve heard a lot of “puro man na foreigners” references when it comes to the Azkals.

And it’s wrong.

WRONG LOGIC. Another twitter influencer questioning the heritage of the Filipinas just because they don’t have Filipino-sounding surnames.

Do you call a cousin who grew up in the states American or Filipino?

Don’t we refer to him as “taga-States pero Pinoy?”

It’s a pity that Sir Jerry said he can’t relate to the Azkals the way he does with other Filipino athletes because I think if he went beyond the superficial, I know he can find himself in the Azkal, or the Azkal in him.

The same goes too for those who begrudge football the publicity, and financial success it is getting at the expense, they say, of other sports.
Work hard, persevere and believe in yourself, and you’ll get there. Isn’t that what we tell ourselves?

Majority of the members did that for seven years, toiling for the flag for a pittance, risking their high-paying jobs in European clubs playing for a country that didn’t care.

And that’s what we had in mind when we coined the term Azkal back in 2005.

What is an askal? Nobody cares or feeds it, save for that odd homeless person. It doesn’t have a home or a master. Yet it survives, right?

We thought, then, that for the team—and Philippine football—to survive it must have the tenacity, resourcefulness and survival instinct of an askal. One other athlete made these traits famous on his way to eight world titles.

Nobody gave them any attention when they stole the headlines in football sites in January 2007, when after a couple of 4-0 losses, they stopped Myanmar from making the semis with a 0-0 draw in the AFF Championships. The team was already eliminated and Myanmar was expected to roll over them.

That, till now, remains one of my best moments as a football fan. It showed the team had and have a dedication to the flag that not all Pinoys—athletes and non-athletes—have.

REASON TO CELEBRATE. The Malditas gave us a reason to celebrate, let’s not bring them down by being bigots or using double standards in judging them.

And even when the team finally got a benefactor in late 2009, do you know how much the players received? The players, who were not qualified to get allowances from the Philippine Sports Commission, got P500 per training session.

I’m not supposed to say this but in a meeting, it was said the team had to increase their training sessions just so the players can get P10,000 a month—a pittance to the P20,000 Class A athletes get from the PSC.

That was then.

Now, the players are reaping the benefits of seven years of hard work. And Philippine football—as one pointed out—is reaping the benefits of a coaching course conducted some 16 years ago, when a certain Aries Caslib, the national coach in 2004, was a participant.

Like every Juan else, this team worked hard to be where they are. Heck, in 2006, during the AFF qualifiers in Bacolod, the PFF gave away tickets—sold at P20—just to fill the stadium.

The Azkals are not an overnight success story, nor are they a team of “just now Filipinos.”

They only seem that way because it’s only now that the rest of the media are paying attention.

And it’s not the Azkals’ fault.

In case you’re interested, I wrote something for the Malditas here. (Hoy! Pinoy sila!)

Mike T. Limpag
Mike T. Limpag

Mike T. Limpag has covered the Cebu sports scene for over 20 years, starting as an 18-year-old cub reporter for the Freeman in 1997 before moving to SunStar Cebu in 2001.

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