By Jose Emmanuel Untalan, VERA Files
OLYMPIC VILLAGE, LONDON—The nine-athlete Philippine delegation to the 2012 Paralympic Games here is returning home empty handed after 11 days of intense competitions, and is not expecting any fanfare when they arrive.
The country's Paralympians failed to get any medals in their final events, with the best of them unable to get past sixth place.
Adeline Dumapong-Ancheta, the 2000 Paralympic Games bronze medalist and the team's best shot at a medal, landed sixth after managing to lift 120 kg in the Women's Powerlifting +82.50 kg Group A.
Table tennis Paralympian Josephine Medina got closest to winning a bronze, but lost it to Sweden's Josefin Abrahamsson in the Women's Singles - Class 8 Finals, losing 0-3 in a very tight 3-game match, 9-11; 10-12; and 11-13.
Four of the country's athletes who are persons with disabilities (PWDs) landed on the sixth spot in their respective competitions: Achelle Guion who cleared the 70 kg in Women's Powerlifting-44 kg Group A; Beariza Ma. Josephine Roble in Women's 100m Freestyle - S6 Heats; Roger Tapia in Men's 100m - T46 Round 1, and Andy Avellana in Men's High Jump F42 Final.
Guion did better than two of her competitors. Tapia and Avellana battled it out in sports with seven competitors. Roble landed sixth in a pool of seven swimmers, because Netherland's Peper Mirjam de Koning did not start and failed to land a ranking.
Isidro Vildosola made it to seventh rank in the nine-person Men's 1500m - T46 Round 1 competition despite clocking his seasonal best of 4:30.42. The ninth runner, Marcin Awizen of Poland, did not finish.
Marites Burce got no mark in Women's Javelin Throw Finals in the F54/55/56 category.
Agustin Kitan was the first casualty when he failed to clear the weights in Men's Powerlifting -52 kg Group B.
Despite the results, the Filipino Paralympians still consider the experience a positive development. Avellana, who recorded his personal best by clearing the bar at 1.55 meters, is happy with the warm response they got from the Filipino community in London.
Avellana, Tapia, and Vildosola feel they were winners because of the tremendous support they got from the London crowd.
"Kahit hindi ka taga-dito, hindi ka taga London, sinusuportahan ka nila. Kaya noong nagsisigawan ang mga tao, nakaka-inspire (Even if you're not from here, not from London, the crowd shows their support. It's inspiring when the whole crowd cheers for you)," Tapia said.
Avellana said that aside from taking part in the second largest sporting event in the world, he will never forget competing against one of his idols, Guo Weizhong of China.
"Hindi ko maipaliwanag. Masaya kasi na-meet ko na talaga 'yung dating pinapanood ko lang tapos nakita ko na ngayon (The feeling is indescribable. I'm happy that I was able to meet him, I used to watch him on tv, now I get to see him in person)," said Avellana.
This year's batch of PWD athletes is the Philippines largest delegation to the Paralympic Games since the country first joined it in 2000. They trained at the Philippine Sports Commission Complex in Pasig City under the supervision of Joel Deriada, an athletics coach from the Philippine Sports Association for the Differently Abled-National Paralympic Committee of the Philippines (Philspada-NPC).
Although Philspada-NPC is now considered a National Sports Association and is provided with regular budget allocations, the Filipino Paralympians had to scrounge for financial support to be able to make it to the Olympic Village here.
The government provided P2 million for the whole contingent, as against the P30 million given to the 11 non-PWDs who competed in the regular Olympics last July.
Deriada said they sought help from both the government and private companies before the team headed for London, but only boxing champ Manny Pacquiao provided them support. The world's best pound-for-pound boxer and Saranggani congressman gave the team P300,000.
The team also approached Rep. Mark Samba of the Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA), the sectoral representative of the athletes in Congress. Rep. Samba pledged support but failed to deliver on his promises to the PWD athletes.
Deriada said that the check given to the athletes by the Philippine Senate in 2007 has not been cashed up to now due to lack of funds.
Vildosola hopes that the government will address the athletes' financial needs to be able to train better and concentrate more on the competitions. "Yung mga athletes dito, kinakarera nila. Lahat ng suporta na kailangan ng family nila, binibigay ng government nila (It is a career to be an athlete here in London. The government provides support to the athlete and his family), he says.
"Nakikita namin dito, yung mga suporta na binibigay sa kanila, sobra-sobra. Kung suportado talaga ang mga atleta, yung atleta kayang magbigay ng expectation nila na honor para sa bansa (We see how the government here supports the athletes. If the athlete is supported, he could meet all the expectations to bring honor to his country," Vildosola adds.
(This story is part of Reporting on Persons With Disability, a project of VERA Files in partnership with The Asia Foundation and Australian Agency for International Development. VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. VERA is Latin for "true.")