Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz laughed when she learned that a Zamboanga councilor wanted the local government to erect a monument in her honor at her home city.
Councilor Elbert Atilano said Diaz called him up about his proposal and asked him in amusement: “Vivo pa yo, hace ya comigo rebulto?”
(I’m still alive, and a monument will be built for me?)
Atilano, who served as one of Diaz’s coaches earlier in her weightlifting career, had proposed that city hall set aside as much as P7 million to build a monument in Zamboanga on top of her P2.5-million reward from the local government.
If he could have his way, Atilano said, the monument would stand at Zamboanga’s Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, the training ground of the city’s athletes.
Atilano, who chairs the City Council’s sports committee, justified his proposal, citing the statue of National Basketball Association (NBA) hall of famer Michael Jordan in Chicago, the 8.6-foot Rocky Balboa statue in Philadelphia, and another 8-foot statue built for bodybuilder-actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger in Columbus, Ohio.
However, Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said, “There are laws on monuments for the deceased.… Even sans the law, in view of the cultural perspective of the Zamboangueño, an effigy for the living is not favored.”
The mother of 30-year-old Diaz, Emelita, was not excited about Atilano’s proposal, either. She said that she respected the councilor’s position, but insisted that local officials should prioritize other things.
Catalino Diaz, another former coach of Hidilyn, said he felt there were other ways to honor the athlete, and that the Olympian should first be consulted about the proposed project.
Councilor Rogelio Valesco, in turn, said the process of building a monument in honor of any person is tedious, and since such an undertaking would require public funds, “the decision has to be reached carefully.”
Councilor Mike Alavar also said it was unclear to him where Atilano wanted city hall to source the funds for the monument.
Another councilor, Kim Elago, said, "We can use the P7 million for more important things, and help the needy.”
However, there were others who favored the proposed monument, like Zamboanga local Cyndi Diaz (not related to the Olympian), who said a monument could inspire the youth and encourage more people to go into sports, particularly weightlifting.
Teacher Maureen Lahaman said a monument could immortalize the memory of the Zamboanguena’s victory in the Olympics, and inspire more athletes.
“I am okay with it. It is a well-deserved reward,” Lahaman said.
Councilor Atilano said, “The problem with those who are reacting is, they do not understand the feeling of an athlete. There are even those who suggested honoring her as the modern-day national hero.”
Diaz's mother Emelita said she had advised Hidilyn and other members of their family to keep their feet on the ground, and to keep on praying.
She said her family was not after material things, and that her daughter would be better off sharing her windfall with those in need.
“We are content with our life, and peace is very important to us,” Emelita said.
Emelita said the fully furnished house and lot promised by President Rodrigo Duterte to her daughter would likely go to the athlete’s brother and his family.
She and her husband Eduardo said they were pleased with Duterte’s gesture, but they would rather stay in their present two-bedroom bungalow in Barangay Mampang than move to a military housing project in Cabaluay.
The Diazes said they also appreciated that Duterte told Hidilyn to “let bygones be bygones,” a statement likely referring to the "matrix" incident in 2019, when Duterte's office included Diaz's name in diagrams that supposedly showed a plot to destabilize the government.
But Emelita said she still asked Hidilyn and her family to “pray for protection from the evil intentions of people.”
She said, “It is only through prayer that we can support Hidi – that God won’t leave her, that He would send her guardian angels to protect her, and never leave her amid the danger, envy, wrong perceptions, and of course, from illness and pain. I’ll just trust God.” – Rappler.com