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A Tribute to Paulino Alcantara

entry is also published on backpagefootball

While much of the talk is currently surrounding the incumbent FIFA World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi having recently netted his 194th goal for FC Barcelona in all competitions making him the 2nd highest scorer for the world’s best club, I decided to take a look at the 1st. The half-Spanish, half-Filipino man from Iloilo, Philippines that is Paulino Alcantara has scored 357 goals in 357 games for the Blaugrana famously breaking a net from one of them. This is not an attempt to make comparisons from the two in terms of form or goalscoring ability, rather a look into the lessons that we can take from what Alcantara has achieved in terms of the current setting of Philippine football and society.

Monkey Man

I also recently came across a poem by G.P. Abrajano that illustrates some of what I want to say in terms of approaching the subject . Taken from his blog lookmaimawriter.blogspot : http://lookmaimawriter.blogspot.com/2011/04/el-rompe-redes-or-legend-of-brown-man.html

El Rompe Redes, or The Legend of the Brown Man of Barcelona

Because we are the visitors,
the home crowd shows us hostility.
Because I am different,
the home team shows me hostility.

I have three defenders
guarding me at all times.

“Monkey,” they call me,
for my pale brown skin is not
olive-brown like an Italian,
my dark eyes are not
bright blue like an Aryan,
and the bridge of my nose is not
aquiline like a Roman.

They could at least be more precise
and call me “Half-Monkey”,
for my father is a Spaniard,
who married a short brown native woman
from the Philippine islands.

But to them,
my blood counts for nothing.
Half a monkey is still a monkey.

I am the only brown man
on a field of twenty-two players.

My teammates can see past
the color of my skin.
I am treated like a brother─
an equal (maybe even greater)─
because I score goals,
because I win matches,
and because they all know
I am the best player
among my white-skinned peers.

That is why my defenders look at me
with anger in their eyes
and hate in their hearts.
They will never allow
a monkey to beat them
in this beautiful game
they created.

I now have the ball,
and the defenders tighten their guard,
like zookeepers out to corral
an escaped chimpanzee,
and they hurl their tightly-woven
nets of prejudice
as they try to hold the monkey down.

But I am too fast for them.
I leave all the defenders behind,
nothing left for them to do but stare
at the number on the back of my jersey:
Number 1.

Racing toward the goal,
I cock my leg back,
and strike the ball
like the hammer of a gun,
and send the bullet flying.

I watch the goalkeeper’s
bright blue eyes,
following the ball in disbelief
as it passes through his hands
and over his straw-colored head.

And the goal’s net cannot hold my shot,
just as the zookeeper’s net cannot hold the monkey.
My bullet travels so fast
that it breaks the net completely through,
splicing the fibers that hold
the twine of reality together.

The entire home crowd
is stunned into silence,
and the joyous uproar of our visiting team
praising my magnificent monkey kick
becomes the salt of insult
that sprinkles over the wounds of their egos.

In the cheery blue eyes of my teammates,
I am El Rompe Redes─
The Net Breaker.
My name will live in legend,
and the club will pass down my story
from generation to generation.

But in the teary blue eyes of my opponents,
I will live in infamy.
They will never see me
as the player who scored the winning goal
amidst the hostile conditions
of an away crowd.
My name will be spoken with loathing,
for I will live forever in their memory
as the monkey who destroyed their net.

Are we monkeys? Have we really extinguished the derogatory and verbal racist term that is “Indio” used during the Spanish colonial centuries? While we may have our own government and National Football team, globalization begs to differ. While we are not monkeys in any respect, the prevailing culture and economics imported from global superpowers assumes this. Is it not tantamount to calling us monkeys when the United States can unconstitutionally put an unmonitored number of US troops who commit thousands of human rights abuses and cannot be put to trial by Filipino courts? Are our courts unfit to preside over crimes committed throughout their campaign to garner military strength in the region? The country is the first to be colonized by the US in the region and is by no coincidence their largest political and economic partner for the last 100 years, a bigger investor in the Philippines than Filipinos themselves. In the same light does the US condemn the introduction of Palestine into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as if this historic recognition of Palestinians is somehow premature. FIFA at least considers Palestine’s existence as they have a national team while they basically said Palestinian people are unfit to decide their lives and better off being bullied/bombed by Israel and the US into submission. This is eerily similar to statements by former US Senator Alfred Beveridge during the Filipino-American war that there are “not 100 men among them (Filipinos) who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon government even means, they are to be governed.” We are monkeys in their eyes by their treatment of our country, monkeys who are rattling the cages and are feared, Paulino Alcantara was feared off the pitch as well.

The Fil-Am War lasted from 1899 to 1902 eradicating 1/6 of the Philippine people

Alcantara was a testament to a largely ignorant time of the Filipino capacity, he did play his national football for the Philippines, and he did it on the pitch of the colonizers. Post-Alcantara Philippine football has only been met with sporadic spurts of talent yet not really cultivating the level of development that is being brought upon today. Some say it is probably due to the American introduction of basketball. Football on the other hand as I’ve mentioned in previous entries is truly a globalized phenomenon, ideally equal for all. While its origins and bulk of skill resides in Europe, there are always victorious challengers; South America is one, whilst Africa and Asia are on their way.

Brown Man’s burden?

While Alcantara is by far neither the sole or best example for articulating nationalist sentiments, he is the biggest product of our country to typify elements of nationalism in a time when confusion over what the Filipino is was at a high. Alcantara abandoned cultural norms, which in this case separated the man from the monkey.

What then of today’s Philippine football conundrum, while Alcantara faced racism abroad, there are some local facets of the current footballing culture that condemns the “over-reliance” on Fil-Foreigners. Ethnocentrism can also be mistaken for nationalism. This contradicts our appraisal of Alcantara when obviously Caligdong and Borromeo are equally important to the team. Taking Fil-foreign players is not a rejection of national strength but a reintroduction of the sport taking it to its undoubtedly global appeal and character. One that is not meant to compromise national markers of the sport but to cultivate it. Globalization and the oppression that comes with it entails discrimination and we only do it favors by treating our kind like monkeys unfit to wear our colors on common soil.

Monkey Man by The Specials illustrates an ordinary situation with very Anglo-Saxon interpretations of racial interaction.

Anglo Saxon Trap

All of this implies a largely Anglo Saxon view of racial inequalities, as pointed out by Elliott in his article Race, Language and Symbolism, meaning using the western notion and standard of race to judge the differences between light and dark. We did not invent racism, it was a bonus from being colonized, we did however innovate the tools of which to combat it in every sense and way possible. Alcantara’s actions and even his presence in Spain spoke magnitudes of this innovation. A history of struggle against colonialism, semi-colonialism and the culture it brings goes against us looking at ourselves through the Anglo Saxon lens as former US Senator Beveridge did.

I have no idea of the treatment Lionel Messi receives in his native Argentina but Alcantara is like many true heroes of the Philippines who are suppressed by the status quo but revived by counter-culture. In a sense I think he is the Filipino footballing equivalent of revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio, with the common aspiration of a man trying to break down a cage set up by an empire that calls him a monkey.


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The “Other” and the “Drug”: What Football can take from the SONA

With the onset of the largely empty State of the Nation Address President Aquino’s efforts to distance himself from the “negativism” of the people still cannot be ignored. Land reform, social service budget cuts, rampant demolitions and persistent political killings were also absent as well as a tangible national plan. The obvious side of the picture would be that the errors of this administration’s priorities continues, however in the larger political context, as Aquino widens the gap between him and Hacienda Luisita he also attempts to shift the attention of the nation towards the apparent victories over the wang-wang. This reminds me of Alain Badiou when he says that one of the biggest cultural triumphs of imperialism is the eradication of the word itself. If we don’t talk about it, it probably doesn’t exist. Similarly in Football, while just about everything is talked about, there has never been any clear attempt to distinguish football as a largely social phenomenon. Most of the time the subject of football is about a team’s tactics, a players’ form, rankings etc. While that is fine, in both politics and football, recognition of social conditions is unequivocally necessary.

Street Painting at the People's SONA protest, photo courtesy of Lori Navida

The Detachment and the Drug

This was a coward’s SONA basically, Aquino may bark a lot, defending his KKK , (Kaibigan, kaklase, Kabarilan/ friends, classmates, shooting buddies) but his bark ends when it counts. It counts only when it defends his administration, usually by not talking about it. His aimless focus on the smaller things points to the lack of significant achievement and the abundance of problems that are ruled by secrecy. In KABATAAN Party Rep. Mong Palatino’s blog article, Utak Wang-wang, Utak Haciendero, he tackles how the SONA’s utak wang-wang focal point was put in place for the utak haciendero that the regime clearly possesses in light of the country’s continued plight. All of this as the SONA repeatedly (as did last year) slam naysayers and critics simply for being critical. Palatino adds that this is ironic, considering his family were both a main proponent and beneficiary of this kind of political opposition during the Marcos dictatorship. It’s sort of unnerving to have a president and from Aquino’s family whilst not mentioning and favoring detaching itself while profiting from Luisita, even if it is one of the bleakest pictures of feudalism and landlordism in the Philippines.

Football has a similar train of thought, though not intentional and obviously does not bear the same consequences but in essence excludes the social issue from the self as does the SONA. In an entry from the Equaliser Football blog entitled “The Attraction of the Futile” it is discussed how football can turn into an escape. True enough I am one of those victims, yet at the same time what it also does is serve as a medium for the of entrapment of the most prominent facets of modern life, namely globalization or the expansion of global capital to monopolistic heights. There is a two line struggle between elevating the game (like other popular sports) to its rightful space within the bigger realities of society and keeping it an escape for convenience. Football can easily become a drug with an addiction that shuts out the world. The entry talks about how the injection of social connectedness into the sport is not only left out of mainstream media (for obvious reasons) even amongst supporters it is not a popular topic. I’m not sure this is the case in the Philippines to a wider extent but I have encountered sentiments of antagonism by the “invasion” of the sport by political discourse. The football community is not an isolated collective, but a result of the emerging sub-culture fumed by media, mainstream or not in all dimensions. The former was tackled in a previous entry.

Stephan Schrock, taken from http://tinyurl.com/3vm7hlw

Especially now when we are facing cases of alleged rape, while this may be all a hoax, I think we cannot be so quick to condemn the issue to a PR spectacle as was the case with the Subic rape case which was in reality manifested by our unfair dealings with the US military. Women’s rights, player’s rights and socially conscious support among others are not nuisances to the game but symptoms of putting football into a relevant area of society and not a pedestal. The personal is political is an often used quote, extending it to football the tactical is political. The entry of the Equaliser ends with “Enjoy football, even go as far as to love it, but don’t let it overwhelm the more significant realities of which it is a mere by-product.”

The “Other” Problem

Borrowing from Jean-Paul Sartre, the notion of the “other” is not only present in both cases but emits a “self-renewing” distinction. The other basically positions a subject who in order to be conscious of the self must be acknowledged by another. The SONA does the reverse of this perfectly, by not taking into account the more pertinent social issues such as the education budget (8 out of 10 HS graduates don’t make it into college) and land reform, he does not become the haciendero president, he effectively constructs himself as a wang-wang buster. This occurs even by dismissing his family’s history with political opposition by calling out the present opposition as counter-productive in his speech. There can be no Luisita if we do not talk about it. As opposed to the lies that we have been accustomed to from the Arroyo years, Aquino’s rhetoric is grounded on the omission of his identity, as has been the case even since the campaign period.

Football’s other is then the realities seemingly outside of the sport. Simply put, football, especially today’s football did not come from the sky, it’s a conglomerate of all the present social conditions. Sometimes it’s almost as if the orthodox footballing world/community exists outside the apparent unorthodox realities that allow it to endure. Why for example does Europe boast the best leagues, probably because of the money invested in the culture built around it. The debt crisis of many big teams is also indicative of how the competition is also an economic one as clubs vie for the best players coupled with the club owner’s profiteering. While all of these have been popularly documented, what has not been often said is that these incidents have their roots in the inequalities present throughout the world.

Mao Tse Tung, in his 5 Golden Rays, explicitly says that the root of subjective thinking is the separation of things . In this case the separation from the political turmoil and the tendency for separation from the conditions that are at play with the sport.

The Echoes Never Stop

Philippine football will face so many more issues outside of the rape scandal, they cannot all be dismissed as impediments to the game. This is part of the effect of a growing following, and I think the National Team must take a hold of the situation as I’m sure there is more to come. Corruption, in Philippine football has already been dealt with as we know it, but I’m doubtful that it’s the end of it.

I heard one fan say “do what you (azkals) want, but not when you wear the flag.” It’s not a national team based on skill alone as I have repeatedly said before, but based on what a nation should value, human rights and genuine democracy. I think this is what the Philippine Football indie film Happyland achieves, in the sense that football is also a product of domestic situations and project for cultural democratization. Enjoy the game, don’t be consumed by the game. The Azkals, likewise the fans should not make Aquino’s mistake with the SONA, though unlike the SONA, I am more hopeful for football.

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Owning the National Team: Monopolies and Football

Ahead of the next stage of the World Cup Qualifiers, I think it’s important to take note of how the powers that be have been affecting their popularity and what it means for the regime and of course for Filipino football. Everyday the regime’s influence is greatly felt in the political scene, taking off from a thunderous campaign President Aquino felt the love from sister Kris and her network ABS CBN as well as from a host of stars that gave their support. Now we see how government is unravelling as a network of different kaibigan, kaklase and kabarilan (friends, classmates, shooting buddies) and even how the shape of the cabinet is filled with liberal party supporters who can do no wrong. De Quiros noted that from Rico Puno’s bribery to the corruption and subsequent Aquino defence of DOTC’s Virginia Torres and Mar Roxas’ induction into the department, not to sound like an Arroyo supporter whose lies are the only thing they have going but this has all been evident from the start. Besides the KKK, the regime is also being singled out for the Kamaganak Inc, being that in truth the government is even more dominated by Aquino’s relatives than that of the Arroyo regime. Case in point is Butch and Julia Abad, budget and PMS secretaries respectively. Though, for me what is more pressing is not the composition of officials but mainly how they have failed to deliver on the “change we need” and in fact delivered the opposite comparable or arguably worse than the lost Arroyo years.

Which brings us to football, and our first point regarding Media, before the Panaad game against Mongolia, ABS-CBN had already purchased the rights to air the game exclusively. Immediately it cannot be denied that it is a good deal seeing as how the game should be televised. However, taking a look at how the relations of the Philippine National Team has developed with the network brings into question the entanglement of the money, power and influence that ABS CBN has with the KKK and Kamaganak Inc. In short it’s as if ABSCBN has become a new government agency or network vastly more powerful than the official NBN and it has Kris Aquino at the helm as a media secretary of sorts.

ABIAS CBN: State Propaganda Revisited

It has already been apparent for a while now that ABS CBN is a network that has devoted a large amount of airtime to being Aquino stalwarts. Kris Aquino as the de facto first lady has organized her troops well and the good history with owners the Lopez family does help. Though more than the aspect of economic power it was Kris Aquino and her troops who really spread the word and influence for her brother. Overall the bias is not as clear as Fox News for example but the combination of “unregistered” state support and the sensationalism that mainstream media does so well is what puts Kris Aquino in the perfect position of money and misguided patriotism.

Granted that for the game the Azkals needed the money, who gets state funding nowadays anyway? Granted also that televising the game is a big step in appealing to a wider audience in how the game is essentially for a wide audience in the first place. But exclusive? So exclusive that smaller media institutions are snubbed into getting the latest and more important Azkals news? Some reporters in Cebu experienced a blackout of sorts from the Azkals recreation visit before training, even after the Cebuano audience has always been faithful to the sport their local media was banned from reporting on the visit. However Sports Unlimited had the scoop. Former anchor and now Press Secretary Ricky Carandang for example lets ABS CBN always get the first and latest from Malacanang though with football the network had to pay for it.

with Randy Santiago

ABS CBN has discovered a way to monopolize a piece of news, ala imperialism, and with the hype Filipino Football is getting, with the kind of political and economic power being already established the network is milking the center of Filipino football for all it’s worth. Moreover this does not end with media coverage.

“I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse”

The rising valuation placed on the Azkals as a team similar to how players in Europe have their wages sky rocket as their form gets better, though at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist Kamaganak Inc and KKK has extended itself beyond media economic gains into the commercialization of the sport. Current Philippine Sports Commission Chairman is a former San Miguel executive and has personally been very keen over the current renovation of the Rizal Memorial Stadium that is also being headed by San Miguel and is also of course largely a Cojuangco company. Even sports is kept in the family.

I am not saying that the RMS should not be renovated but amidst all of this the emerging pattern is all too familiar from the Mafia tactics of the Arroyo family, and that a lot of the criticism that the Aquino regime is facing has its annexes in the business of sports as of late. It’s a state monopoly in the truest sense of the word franchising into sport.

Win to Survive

While all agree that for Football to get the attention and facilities etc it deserves it needs money so no surprise that the ruling family (not only in government) is involved somehow. In Europe for example numerous networks always air different football games, I assume the consensus is that the treatment of football the commodity is too big and too isolating for one network to handle. Many of us have tried numerous networks in our efforts to live stream from different sites linked to different networks and kept on switching just to get the right reception. A national team needs to be nationally available regardless of any business deal.

Mainly, all of this is to illustrate that despite the positive injection of football the mainstream media has driven into popular culture it is still a symptom of the treatment of government like a business by subsequently merging itself with media. We must be critical of how this treatment will affect the sport. Of course this will entail additional hype to the sport but ultimately it reaches a point when the companies and officials are the actual beneficiaries of football teams. European club owners have the bad habit of spending on teams to the point of indebtedness, an issue amplified if a team is not doing well on the pitch. What happens when the Azkals start losing? Former National Team keeper Vic Sison was part of the team that beat Japan in the late 50s, a significant achievement especially in today’s standards. He recalls that when the team started losing media forgot about them, sponsors especially the Chinese ones pulled out and to pay for the trip for international matches even became a burden. This was before Dan Palami, but even Dan Palami is not financially as omnipotent as the ruling family.

Before the game against Sri Lanka, everyone has hope, the excitement needs to be continuously affirmed. Let’s hope that a win against Sri Lanka among others, leads to the team being strong enough to be independent from exclusive media ownership. No national team can be owned.

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Philippine Football’s Housing Question: Of Stadium Development and Demolition Issues

Our road to possible World Cup glory really starts on July 3 when we take on Sri Lanka in a qualifier match on home soil in the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC). This much awaited game for the Manileno fan base of the revamped Azkals continuous to reach a certain level of hype in the metro especially over the ticket prices, which in an economy like ours can determine a lot in terms of attendance and success of tangible and participative support. According to the news reports, tickets for the game will be priced at P200, P300, P2,000 and P3,000, ($5, $7, $46 and $69) a big leap from the prices at Panaad, Bacolod which even gave away a large number of free tickets. Ticket prices are only one side of the coin, it is important to see what this means in terms of the development of football as played in our own stadiums. This is invariably connected to the concept of modernization yet it takes place in sports, something that is somewhat problematic especially concerning the bleak trend of urbanization currently going on.

The Housing Question

Engels’ famous book takes on this topic by saying that fundamentally the contradiction on this matter is between the city’s urbanization and the development of the countryside. In other words, in this context it means the genuine development for both sides considering the historical tendencies of both, that being the concentration in cities and the exploitative backwardness of most provinces. Yet how do we house big football games? Moreover what does this imply and bring into play in terms of football development? While the provinces hold the strongholds of domestic support for football, the entire country is still a long way from having the proper leagues and systems in place for national development. Manila on the other hand still holds the promise of commercial success.

Many have already pointed out that these gargantuan ticket prices defeat the purpose of both popularizing and familiarizing people with football, especially the joys of live football. Ryan Fenix notes that people may be doubtful for the Sri Lanka game, taking into account if many will settle for the bleachers? Of course to some extent it is expected that with the increasing hype of local football especially with the Azkals, there will always be someone or some people who will capitalize on it. San Miguel attempted to but backed out of sponsorship for the upcoming game while Smart is already on the bandwagon. Eventually this translates into profiteering over accessibility. The problem is at what cost? Manila is the perfect stage to get a real start on the profiteering game which has a concentration of people, capital and hence profit. A hefty profit from this game can mean a continuation of the “big games” housed in Manila, possibly creating a Manila-centric approach to big live games, discounting both the local talents and facilities elsewhere and the inherent grassroots nature of football as evidenced by Iloilo and Bacolod. This treatment of football as differing from the city to the countryside reflects what the Housing Question points out, in that it seeks to maintain the metro as a bastion for capital accumulation and the countryside as excluded from this brand of “modernity” when in truth, the development of football is much more advanced in the countryside. As in many things, the basic sectors of society have been the determinant of advancement and also like many other things, the ruling elite refuses to recognize this. The game in RMSC is in itself not a bad thing, but we should be wary of the predisposition both the state and corporations can take in handling the situation of football for all especially with these ticket prices which are generally not a good sign.

Not a good sign

I remember the demolitions incurred by the construction of massive stadiums for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, many urban poor citizens were displaced in China, of course locally we are increasingly becoming no stranger to this phenomenon. Last May 23, there was another attempt at illegal demolition against the residents of Barangay Corazon de Jesus by the city government of San Juan. The San Juan government wants to put up a New City Hall on the site that is 1.6 hectares and houses close to a thousand families. It was already deemed illegal a few months ago since a DILG order stated that the site was not to be demolished. The enforced relocation program to Montalban did not sit well with residents, an article in Pinoy Weekly interviewed a woman as saying:

“Kamatayan ang katumbas ng pag-relocate sa Montalban,” ayon kay Liza Fariscal, miyembro ng Samana na may 50 taon nang naninirahan sa Brgy. Corazon de Jesus. “Alam namin na walang kabuhayan doon. Substandard ang mga bahay, walang tubig na malinis, at ang kuryente ay generator na ilang oras lang binubuksan.”

In other words, the people of Corazon de Jesus feel that relocation to the middle of nowhere in Montalban is like a death sentence, citing no water, electricity, services and livelihood to be found in the area of which they are being forced to settle in.

    *Former President Erap Estrada even physically hit an activist in his anger at those who thwarted the plans of the city he loved

    The residents protested with their barricades and eventually the demolition teams gave up. Their collective action while localized is not an isolated case as in areas like Pangarap Village, North Caloocan residents also prepare for the violence and again illegal demolition of the Carmel Development Inc. Owned by the Araneta family. While the dispute over land is still tied up in court the CDI is already on the move terrorizing the residents with private armies. The dispute reached its boiling point when people were shot last April 28 by angered mercenaries of CDI. Since then protests have been stepped up chasing away any meddling elements of the CDI.

    These are only a few of the many cases of illegal demolition of urban poor areas who have no consideration for the livelihood and actual lives of the residents, cases that have increased since the instalment of the Aquino regime.

    I mention these issues as a precedent of what is eventually to spread in every imaginable urbanization project that both corporations and the state have to offer. Ticket prices are one side of the issue, a legitimate one that should raise protests from fans. Recently Arsenal FC of North London raised ticket prices by 6% prompting the biggest boycott of the clubs history leaving a significant part of the Emirates Stadium empty during games. Football as played in stadiums requires stadiums themselves and as of now we only have two that can accommodate international games. Do we want more? Of course, however this aspect of development, albeit of facilities should not coincide with the demolition of urban poor communities. If so, I wouldn’t be caught dead watching a game in a stadium erected on such grounds.

    The housing question has come to Philippine football, particularly the next phase is stadium development and greater capital accumulation and Manila seems to be a likely target. Though if not the provinces are not excluded from the resulting damage that urbanization is bringing to poor communities.

    While the last game in Panaad seemed a fitting homage to the players and supporters who kept football alive in the country we are entering uncharted yet somewhat inevitable territory. I have made no definite predictions, yet I must assert that these things are possible with the current inclinations of the forces moving behind the games and teams. Towering ticket prices and demolition teams all around, both the infrastructure and massive culture of support remain questionable with these developments. Meaning it’s looking like going down a road which is increasingly capitalist and the implosion of football in regard to the housing question or the contradiction between city and countryside is a matter of approaching football like a service to the people, something that is acceptable for it to self-sustaining and just.

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