Have you lost something so big, so special, so important that it plagues you once in a while? Like a childhood stuffed toy you can’t remember where you last placed, or a letter you couldn’t find no matter how much you clean your room?
One second it was there, but the next it was gone. Poof.
As days turned into months and months into years, that loss takes a back seat. Then suddenly as you’re sipping your usual morning coffee or hailing a cab on a rainy night, it hits you again: what ever happened to those things?
You’d wish you could travel back in time and tell yourself to never let those things out of sight because somehow, deep down, you knew those things don’t just vanish in thin air.
Sometimes, they are stolen.
And Philippine volleyball knows exactly how it felt like to be robbed.
THE BIRTH OF AMIHAN
In September 2014, the Philippine Volleyball Federdation (PVF) held a three-day tryout to build a long-term men’s and women’s national team who are slated to banner the flag in the 2015 SEA Games after 10 long years of non-participation in its volleyball events.
Seasoned mentors Odjie Mamon and Ramil de Jesus would call the shots for the 18-man national teams to be composed of veterans and young players alike.
Big names from UAAP, NCAA, PSL and the defunct SVL heeded the call, as well as coaches like George Pascua, Shaq delos Santos and Kung Fu Reyes.
Pascua even quoted, “Ang ganda nitong nangyayari para sa volleyball sa Pilipinas. Tignan mo naman kaming lahat, solid ang suporta. Kahit sinong maging head coach suportado natin.”
PVF, the coaches, sports benefactor PLDT Home Fibr, and even the fans were hands on during the tryout to select who among the hopefuls would fit in the program.
On October 17, the rosters for the women’s and men’s national volleyball teams that will be sent to compete in the international competitions were revealed.
SEA Games veteran Tina Salak and MJ Balse were at the helm of the line-up together with co-Army Lady Troopers Nerissa Bautista and Jovelyn Gonzaga.
NU towers Dindin and Jaja Santiago made the cut, while La Salle trio Kim Fajardo, Ara Galang and Mika Reyes were also set to play alongside Ateneo’s Alyssa Valdez and Denden Lazaro.
UST’s triumvirate Aiza Maizo, Rhea Dimaculangan and Maika Ortiz were also on the list to play along former collegiate stars Jen Reyes, Honey Royse Tubino, Liz Pantone, and Rachel Anne Daquis.
The men’s line-up was just as solid with Marck Espejo, Peter Torres and Ranran Abdilla.
John Vic de Guzman, Paolo de Ocampo and Mark Alfafara were also added with Howard Mojico, Jessie Lopez, Sandy Montero, Reyson Fuentes, JR Labrador, Vinz Mangulabnan, Raffy Mosuela, Henry Pecana, Jayson Ramos, JP Torres, and Kheeno Franco, and Jeff Malabanan.
And they went by the name Amihan (women) and Bagwis (men).
With the formation of Amihan and Bagwis, Philippines, who lorded Southeast Asia before Vietnam and Thailand reinvented themselves, was brimming with hope of resurging once again in the international arena.
Rock solid lineups. Multi-awarded coaches. Long-term volleyball programs. Big sports benefactor. United volleyball community – it seems nothing could’ve ever stopped the country’s bid to redemption.
Or so everyone thought.
Amihan and Bagwis were the programs Philippines has long been waiting for.
Through the efforts of PVF, the then NSA, the well-written 10-year program was presented to the PLDT executives who, after seeing the solidity of the project, gave 10 million pesos to fund the salaries and lodging of the players.
Aside from this, PLDT opened up more opportunities like promotions for the players as they signed a contract from September 2014 to May 2015.
The program was the perfect platform for transition and continuity. It would’ve been a great transition from Salak to Dimaculangan to Fajardo or from Pantone to Reyes to Lazaro – from veterans to young players to U23 spikers.
Everything finally seemed to be going well for the country’s women’s and men’s volleyball. But unknown to many, a wolf lurked by the shadows, sharpening his fangs, waiting for the right time to attack and, in the process, destroy the dreams.
The teams were set to don the national colors in the international events in the years to come, until power struggle ensued.
PVF lost its accreditation from the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the FIVB as the national sports federation for volleyball.
Ugly months followed that even resulted to emotional breakdown of the players who got caught in the middle of chaos.
The Federation was tight-lipped during the ‘issue,’ wanting nothing from it. Meanwhile, it was the players who received the blow the most.
Noel Zarate, the renowned volleyball analyst, shed more light on the issue: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/why-the-big-bad-wolves-cant-blow-down-the-stone-050307048.html
In a stunning twist of fate, as the trouble called politics escalated between the concerned bodies and individuals, Amihan and Bagwis were officially dissolved weeks before the 2015 SEA Games.
The castle crumbled overnight, and along with it the dreams and hopes of every volleyball faithful. Maybe, just maybe, the root of it all was the evil itself: money.
Truly, no one should bring a knife to gunfight.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
So much has happened to Philippine volleyball and the players since then.
Some of the members of Amihan went on to banner the flag under the new and current NSA, while some didn’t.
Libero Pantone and outside hitter Bautista flew under the radar after the disbandment of the team.
Galang sustained a knee injury in March 2015 and never had the chance to represent the country.
The older Santiago, now Manabat, saw limited international action since 2015 after giving birth to her first daughter in 2016 and after tearing her MCL in 2017.
Gonzaga was a household name in the past two editions of SEA Games until she sustained an ACL injury last December 2017.
Time has caught up with the 2005 SEA Games bronze medallists as Balse wasn’t the same anymore while Salak recently announced her retirement from the sports.
All of the original members of Amihan are now 22 years old and above. The clock is ticking.
Four years later, the ghost of Amihan and Bagwis still haunts Philippine volleyball. They’ll remain as the greatest teams that never were.
They are the echoes of a person’s heartbeats. The partially remembered dreams from the night before. The flash of memory that disappears just when before you could take hold of it.
They will be remembered. Always. Maybe forever.