ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 1 Sep) – With Air Force personnel on board two floats adorned with fresh flowers on their sides, a barbell placed in the center on one and a pair of boxing gloves on the other, Hidilyn Diaz of Mampang and Eumir Felix Marcial of Lunzuran were welcomed by their compoblanos, their fellow Zamboangueños, with pride and love.
It was a cool Wednesday afternoon, with raindrops slightly yet gently falling, but the two Olympians were gamely waving back to Zamboangueños who were waving with welcome and congratulatory greetings: “Bienvenidos!” “Felicidades!” “Enhorabuena!”
The Inter-Agency Task Force specifically cited restrictions on the event beforehand, a local ordinance cited a maximum of 40 in the audience, the crowd restricted along the thoroughfare where their floats drove along. However, crowd control temporarily became a challenge for the police as, in some parts, more than 100 people tried to see their kababayans again, this time donning their medals that they brought back for the country.
With 13 military installations based in Zamboanga City, it was the first time that two colorful floral floats had on board two persons in military uniform, enlisted personnel at that. Diaz and Marcial are both with the Philippine Air Force as staff sergeant and sergeant, respectively.
The last time that honor such as this (except for the floral float parade) was afforded to a person in uniform was when General Alexander Yano was honored as Unico Hijo Adoptivo del Ciudad de Zamboanga (Only Adoptive Son of the City of Zamboanga). The now retired general was credited for having been the Task Force Zamboanga Commander during the Cabatangan Siege in November 2001, when he made decisions on the ground that saved the lives of more than 100 Zamboangueños hostaged by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Diaz, a weightlifter, is the first Filipino ever to win for the Philippine flag a gold medal in the Olympics. This she won at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just over a month ago. Her roots, her first trainings as a weightlifter, her first schools, and growing up years were in la hermosa ciudad.
Marcial, on the other hand, is the first boxer from Zamboanga City who brought home an Olympic medal, a bronze. Likewise, his roots, his first home-based trainings as a boxer, his first schools, and first fights were in la bella Zamboanga.
Marcial, who mentioned his gratitude to the support of the police and Armed Forces in his later years of trainings, recalled the past decade when he used to visit City Hall as a seven-year-old kid and later as a teen boxer, to claim his incentives as a young boxer: 500 pesos as a boy, then 1,000 pesos as a teenager.
Diaz, for her part, thanked God first, and recalled her experiences in Malaysia for training when they were stranded because of the pandemic. She shared that she, a tricycle driver’s daughter, was able to achieve her dream. She expressed gratitude to her family, for her early trainers – her cousin Cata Diaz, Gregorio Colonia, Elbert Atilano, and Dr. Cecilia Atilano, the city sports director.
Diaz referred to her experience in Malaysia as “anxiety to the highest,” especially when they were figuring “donde sila queda (where they would live),” and the hardships they had for two years prior to the Tokyo Olympics.
“Si no hay si God, no hay yo aqui. Usa conmigo si God. No olvida con God (If God were not there, I would not be here. God is using me,” Diaz said tearfully, as she shared her honor with the people in her home city.
The Olympic medalists also thanked Universidad de Zamboanga, where they were once scholars, for acknowledging their potentials that became prowess in sports, as they were allowed to use their gymnasium facilities during their student years.
Hidilyn and Eumir, both with their parents, were given the honor by local officials led by Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco and Rep. Cesar Jimenez Jr., and received the checks of P2.5 million for Diaz and P1.2 million for Marcial. (Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)