Let me take you down memory lane, to that first Independence Day celebration of your presidency. That traditional civic parade held at the Luneta was dazzling, as it was reminiscent of the one that took place during the Centennial celebrations.
However, the mood sort of changed as the contingent of the Philippine Sports Commission came into view; we all began to feel a rippling unease. We had expected to see phalanx after phalanx of energetic Filipino youth marching and cheering jubilantly in distinctive uniforms, waving banners with emblems of their favorite sports—basketball, boxing, swimming, baseball, archery, martial arts, etc. Champions, past and present, would lead each phalanx as an announcer read their achievements, thanking them for making us proud of being Filipinos. None of that happened.
To our collective dismay, instead of the expected phalanxes, a clutch of men and women, in no particular formation, brandishing no banners or emblems plodded silently before us, in bureaucratic rhythm and pace. Among them, were a few fledgling movie stars(in deference to your profession) gingerly riding horses. As the motley cortege approached the grandstand, something must have startled the docile mares (maybe your stony presidential gaze). these began to jump and kick, hurling Their riders off saddle. Was that a grim reflection of the state of Philippine sports? You were not amused.
Yesterday, I learned that the Manila Council passed local legislation to allow you to demolish the Rizal Memorial Stadium Complex (RMSC) in order to implement a project ostensibly to benefit the city. There have been reports in mainstream and social media that you and Mr. Enrique Razon are going to construct a complex of shopping malls and condominiums high enough to puncture the skyline.
Mayor Erap, does Manila need yet another mall, yet another cluster of high rises? Facing the RMSC is an SM mall, as tone’s throw away is the Harrison Plaza; that area is replete with mini- shopping and commercial centers, not to mention residential and mixed-used skyscraper-type condominiums. The corner of Taft Avenue and Vito Cruz is a deadly choke point. Not too faraway on Padre Faura are the Robinsons Mall and Tower Residences; further up is another SM mall, behind the City Hall. As you know, the San Lazaro Hippodrome and historic Manila Jockey Club (designed by a National Artist) were obliterated and converted into an SM mall by ex- Mayor Lito Atienza, who also destroyed what remained of Meisic, the oldest police station in Asia, only to convert it into a shopping center. Not to be outdone, the Ayalas are re-doing Santa Ana Race track into a similar complex. In Binondo, the “Lucky China” flaunts its “Chinese Mediterranean” look, the emporium called 168 is a bane to traffic. Ubiquitous Pure Gold is planning its most spectacular mall in the former Tabacalera compound. Thank goodness the historic Tutuban Station was not destroyed when it morphed into a commercial center, unlike the unfortunate Paco Station which was mindlessly reduced to a carcass then abandoned by the irresponsible developer. Manila is losing its architectural heritage and its unique identity.
Mayor Earp, why don’t you convert the RMSC into a sports center for the people of Manila? That can be your remarkable legacy not only to the city, but also to the Fillipino nation. Manila is a densely populated university city, the country’s hub for elementary and secondary education. Since time immemorial, Manila has been the center of education; most of the leaders of the Propaganda Movement and the Revolution were educated in academic institutions found in Manila. (That is why it has many monuments.) Just imagine, thousands of students streaming into the RMSC to enjoy the Olympic swimming pool, to play basketball, football and volleyball, learn boxing or race around the running track, to learn archery (I did that once) and to practice martial arts. Hundreds of barangay sports teams can hold their tournaments in the RMSC, sponsored by you.
As a public sports center, the RMSC can generate much more employment than a shopping mall. Many jobs can be created for retired athletes, coaches,and trainers, as well as forgardeners, sweepers, electricians, engineers, carpenters, janitors and security guards. Portions of the RMSC can be re-purposed for hostels, eateries, Internet cafes, sports clinics, retailers ofsportswear and equipment. The RMSC can also rent out space for concerts, movies, parades and other remunerative national and international activities. Last but not the least, please set up a Philippine Sports Museum that will inspire the youth with exhibits about the achievements of Filipino champions, and the significant events that took place in the Rizal Memorial Stadium Complex itself.
Can you imagine, the youth from Manila’s more than 800 barangays having free access to the facilities of RMSC! Sports will prevent drug addiction. Damn those shopping malls! Save the RMSC! You will be immortalized for producing generations of champions who will bring honor to the Philippines.