By Ellson Quismorio
A Mindanao lawmaker filed on Wednesday a bill seeking to immortalize, so to speak, Filipino athletes who have brought honor to their country through their numerous sports conquests.
“House Bill (HB) No. 5782 is essentially an honors code for our sports heroes,” said the bill’s author, Agusan del Norte Representative Lawrence Fortun in a statement.
“This bill makes sure that after the euphoria of victory settles, our athletes are not slowly forgotten and many of them and their heroic feats do not fade into oblivion,” said Fortun, who filed the measure on the same day that the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) came to a close.
Law honors athletes same as National Artists
Once enacted into law, HB 5782 will serve as the legal basis for the conferment of three honors: the Order of National Athletes, National Medal of Excellence in Sports, and the Balangay Medal for Sportsmanship.
“Our athletes whose sweat and blood earned great pride and respect for our country should be given the prominent recognition they so richly deserve as they continue to inspire Filipinos, young and old, to be of contribution to society.
“It is thus imperative for the government to institutionalize a permanent system for recognizing and rewarding our sports heroes,” said Fortun, a recently-elected governor on the board of the Philippine Football Federation.
The proposed statute provides that the Order of National Athletes, to be otherwise known as the Orden ng mga Pambansang Atleta, shall be the highest honor the Government of the Philippines shall confer upon its outstanding sports heroes who have brought immense pride and honor to the country and have dedicated their lives towards the advancement of their sports.
“Recipients of the Orden ng Pambansang Atleta will elevate our sports heroes to such level comparable with our National Artists and Scientists,” Fortun said.
HB 5782 also establishes a National Medal of Excellence in Sports or the Pambansang Medalya ng Katangi-tanging Husay sa Isports for outstanding individual and team achievements in international sports competitions.
Tailor-made for Casogay
A Fortun innovation is the Balangay Medal for Sportsmanship or Gawad Balangay, which shall be given to athletes demonstrating heroic sportsmanship during international and local competitions exemplifying the values of community, amity, honesty, fairness, selflessness, sacrifice, and good will.
“For athletes like Filipino surfer Roger Casogay, who heroically [rescued] Indonesia’s surfer during the 30th SEA Games, this Balangay Medal would be for him,” the solon said.
Funding for sports heroes, trainings
A National Endowment Fund for Sports Heroes is also being proposed to fund the benefits provided for in the bill and ensure funding for the continuous trainings, development, and participation of all awardees in prestigious international competitions.
“The National Endowment Fund for Sports Heroes would have seed money of P1 billion,” Fortun said.
Under HB 5782, awardees of the Order of National Athletes shall be conferred the rank and title of National Athlete as proclaimed by the President of the Philippines. They will also receive the National Athlete medallion plus citation.
In addition, lifetime compensation and material benefits for the awardees will include a cash award to be determined by a committee, net of taxes for living awardees; a cash award to be determined by a committee, net of taxes for posthumous awardees, payable to legal heirs; a monthly life pension as well as medical and hospitalization benefits; and life insurance coverage for awardees who are still insurable.
The Philippines won the overall championship in the SEA Games after winning nearly 400 medals, some 150 of those gold.