When we were in grade school, my classmates and I were largely divided between Ginebra and Alaska, the rival PBA teams of the 1990s.
I was a big Ginebra fan. On Sundays when my family would visit our grandparents in San Pablo, Laguna, I would watch games with my Lolo Basilio, who rooted for the same team. The next day, I would excitedly discuss the game’s results with my classmates—and if Ginebra won, we would gloat at our pro-Alaska classmates. Although the ensuing argument would sometimes escalate to verbal and physical scuffles, it generated mostly laughter as we tried to outinsult each other’s favorite players and coaches—our favorite target being Tim Cone (who, ironically, is now Ginebra’s coach).
It was the height of Robert Jaworski’s coaching career, and the Ginebra lineup was led by the likes of Marlou Aquino and EJ Feihl (the “Twin Towers”), Noli Locsin (“The Tank”) and Bal David (“The Flash”). Providing comic relief was Dodot Jaworski, and The Big J himself (he was a playing coach, after all). When the outcome was certain, they would bring in Dodot, and his moves—whether good or bad—were gleefully received.
One of the high points of my Grade 5 days was being brought by my dad to Araneta Coliseum to watch a PBA game. In that memorable game where Ginebra won, I joined the crowd in cheering for Gordon’s Gin (as the team was then known) with the unbridled excitement of a 10-year-old.
The referees were a big part of the narrative; there were times when we felt they were being unfair. But they would also make decisions that were favorable to Ginebra’s “never say die” tactics, to which we were happy to turn a blind eye. No matter the outcome, no matter what Jaworski and his boys did, we stuck with them. Win or lose, Ginebra pa rin!
My devotion to Ginebra faded with the disappearance of that legendary team: Jaworski eventually ran for the Senate (where he didn’t have as much impact); Vince Hizon was pirated by the MBA, that fleeting rival to the PBA; the others eventually retired. But the idea of a “Barangay Ginebra” lives on, and Gary Granada’s anthem continues to resonate with many Filipinos:
Kahit hindi relihiyoso
Naaalala ko ang mga santo
O San Miguel, Santa Lucia
Sana manalo ang Ginebra!
My memories of being a Ginebra fan resurface today as I try to make sense of the fanatic nature of our political engagement. Much as we rallied behind the charisma of one Robert Jaworski, no matter what, many people today are rallying behind political figures with as much passion and zeal.
Much as we insulted other teams with glee in the past, there is also the tendency today for political rivals and their partisans to resort to vilification and name-calling. At some point the attacks turn foul.
To some extent, a certain amount of fanaticism is to be expected: It is a well-documented phenomenon in psychology and the social sciences. Belonging to a team provides a sense of identity—one that empowers people to behave in ways they wouldn’t as individuals. When their team wins, they bask in “reflected glory,” but loyalty is not always tied to victory. Significantly, sports fans are known to exhibit a lot of cognitive bias—the tendency to rationalize defeats by blaming it on others, not on their own teams’ mistakes, while taking full credit for any form of triumph.
The same goes for politics: Just as it is natural for us to idolize sports stars, it is also natural for us to idealize politicians as heroes or saviors, to defend their every move, and to turn a blind eye to their faults.
Even so, I hope a sense of sportsmanship would prevail in our politics, which, like sports, can only work if we all respect the rules of the game. Indeed, just as a true basketball fan’s loyalty should be to basketball itself, and not to any player or team, a Filipino’s loyalty should be foremost to the country and our rules of law, not to its political players.
But who, you may ask, will blow the whistle, call the fouls, and implement the rules? Aside from well-behaved teams and fans, our political system badly needs one other thing: unbiased referees.
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