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List of Articles by Joaquin Henson



Fight’s not over for Mel

By Joaquin Henson
PhilBoxing.com
20 Jan 2017


Lopez.

Former PSC chairman and Manila Mayor Mel Lopez was laid to rest at the Heritage Park, Taguig City, last Jan. 7 with his dream of the Philippines capturing a first-ever Olympic gold medal unfulfilled. The fight isn’t over for Lopez as the boxers from ABAP swear that someday, at least one of them will make his dream come true. He’ll be the guiding light and inspiration for the simon-pures in their quest for that elusive gold.

The night before Lopez’ burial, Northern Samar 1st District Rep. Raul Daza and former three-term Negros Occidental Rep. Monico Puentevella spoke during the necrological services. Puentevella recalled how Lopez served as PSC chairman with honor and dignity. He said they were frequent traveling companions in international sporting events. What made Lopez stand out, apart from his brilliance, was his sartorial elegance. Puentevella said he admired Lopez’ taste in shoes. To end his tribute, Puentevella sang “What A Wonderful World,” popularized by Louis Armstrong.

Daza, 81, shared fond memories of Lopez who was also 81 at the time of his death. They were buddies in politics and sports. What made them even closer as friends was their common love for boxing. Lopez was ABAP president from 1987 to 1993 then PSC chairman from 1993 to 1996. Daza was ABAP chairman from 1992 onwards.

Daza said he’ll never forget accompanying AIBA despot Prof. Anwar Chowdry with Lopez to pay a courtesy call on President Ramos at Malacanang. “Before seeing Chowdry, President Ramos asked us what he should tell him,” said Daza. “Mel and I knew what Chowdry wanted but we weren’t about to give it. We didn't tell President Ramos. During the meeting, President Ramos kept looking at us for a signal. He didn’t really know what Chowdry wanted. In the end, President Ramos told Chowdry simply that an Olympic gold medal would mean a lot to our country. It would boost national pride and uplift our spirits. Since we didn’t offer anything, Chowdry just promised President Ramos every Filipino boxer in 1996 would get a fair shake.”
****

Neither Daza nor Lopez would stoop to Chowdry’s level and offer a bribe that he probably waited for. They wouldn’t compromise their principles and they stood by their honesty. As it turned out, Onyok Velasco went to the lightflyweight final in Atlanta and lost a disputed decision to settle for the silver. Maybe, it would’ve been a gold if only Daza and Lopez lined Chowdry’s pockets. But not even the gold medal is worth sacrificing one’s integrity.

Lopez never forgave Chowdry for his corruption. In 1998, he stood up and spoke out against Chowdry during the AIBA World Congress in New York City. It took eight more years before Chowdry was finally ousted as AIBA president in the elections. Lopez paved the way for others to carry the torch.

Lopez’ son Manny, who also served as ABAP president and is now a Congressman from Manila, was the country’s chef de mission at the 2012 London Olympics. Father and son were together at the Games for the last time to cheer the lone Filipino boxer Mark Anthony Barriga in the delegation.

Lopez died of cardiac arrest following a massive stroke at the turn of this year. He had come from Bulacan that day to visit friends and distribute presents. That was his personal touch. He also used to drop by our house during the Christmas season and hand out gifts to our family and household staff, even if my wife and I weren’t around. Manny said Lopez went to Bulacan with a driver and an aide. He skipped a nap that afternoon and the exhaustion could have triggered the stroke.

In 1988, Lopez underwent open heart surgery in Baylor, Texas and survived. He watched what he ate and exercised to live a full life until his dying day. He will be remembered and missed. His memory will drive Filipino boxers to strive even harder to bring home that elusive Olympic gold medal.
****

In his eulogy, Daza quoted Rudyard Kipling who in his poem “If,” wrote about walking with kings and not losing the common touch. “During his colorful political career, Mel commanded the attention, respect and honor of the political kingpins of his times,” said Daza. “No doubt, he earned it because of his integrity, honest and fidelity in public office. He paid his dues with his own blood at the infamous 1971 Plaza Miranda massacre. While many other politicians collaborated or temporized with the dictatorship, he served in the Batasang Pambansa from 1984 to 1986 as an uncompromising fiscalizer. He walked with Ninoy Aquino, Lorenzo Tanada, Jovy Salonga, Gerry Roxas, Pepe Diokno, Cory Aquino and others of this illustrious ilk.

“During his 11-year stint as the acknowledged leader of amateur boxing in the Philippines, there were three Summer Olympics----1988 in Seoul, 1992 in Barcelona and 1996 in Atlanta. After a complete medal drought through 24 years in all Olympic sports, in all these consecutive three Olympics, a Filipino boxer won a medal. Since 1924 when the Philippines first participated in the Summer Olympics, this signal feat in one sport had never happened. I highly doubt that it ever will again. Thus, not much in the Philippines but more abroad, in the international boxing circles, Mel walked with boxing kings of other countries. Yet, Mel never lost the common touch.

“As Mayor of Manila from 1986 to 1992, he padlocked two Manila casinos because he firmly believed that gambling victimized the poor, especially the youth. He revived and rehabilitated the Boys Town to house poor children and provide them with education as well as livelihood training. During his watch, City Hall was wide open to the poor and needy from Tondo and other underprivileged areas.

“When he was active in amateur boxing, he was deferential to boxers from poor families, particularly from the provinces. He invariably drew from his own financial resources to help not only the boxers but also even members of their families. The health and well-being of every referee, trainer or boxer was always his concern. Surely, Mel is a veritable embodiment and exemplary model of that rare breed of Filipino who walks with kings and never loses his common touch.”


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