MANILA, Philippines – The Games and Amusements Board (GAB) took a major step toward improving safety measures for professional boxers on Thursday, May 11, announcing a partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) on day one of the 3-day GAB Convention in Davao City.
The partnership calls for boxers to receive free CT scans and MRI procedures, as well as free annual checkups at regional DOH facilities, according to a statement released by the GAB.
The GAB also said Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, who was a guest speaker at the convention, had proposed “to extend PhilHealth coverage to all boxers and their families by granting full government subsidy as part of the country’s vulnerable population.”
“The offer of Health Secretary Ubial was more than we asked for which was free CT scan or MRI procedures,” GAB chairman Abraham “Baham” Mitra was quoted as saying. “The cost of those procedures is prohibitive for the boxers and dissuades them from undergoing the necessary tests to determine their fitness to fight.”
Previously, boxers had difficulty applying for health coverage from private companies, Mitra told Rappler, due to the dangerous nature of their profession.
“It’s really high risk, that’s why the private sector is not inclined to give. Otherwise it’s going to be really high, the premiums, and the boxers themselves won’t be able to afford,” Mitra, who was appointed chairman last year, said in a phone interview.
Prior to the partnership, boxers would have to pay around P2,500 for a CT scan in Metro Manila, and from P4,500 to P6,500 in provinces, the GAB estimates.
Jim Claude Manangquil, who runs Sanman Promotions out of General Santos City, calls the news “a big help to Philippine boxing.”
At the moment, he said he pays P6,000 for each of his 22 boxers’ yearly medical requirements, for a total of P132,000 out of pocket. For boxers who aren’t in an established stable, the costs make starting a boxing career not even worth it.
“If a boxer fights and gets a license, he will pay P6,000 for license and medical and made just P5,000-P7,000. Plus his trainers and hotel and expenses, so he will end up with nothing,” said Manangquil, who handles boxers Randy Petalcorin, Romero Duno, and Reymart Gaballo.
Benguet-based manager Brico Santig also lauded the new provisions, estimating the annual cost for his 30 boxers’ license fees at P150,000.
“It’s a big help for us, especially [if] you have a lot of boxers. The extra money can help [buy] some vitamins and for gym equipment and maintenance,” said Santig, owner of the Highland Boxing Gym. “Now many boxers will be encouraged to join boxing due to this development.”
Medical requirements for boxers had been the subject of much debate last March after Senator Manny Pacquiao, a world boxing champion, sponsored Senate Bill 1306 proposing a boxing commission independent of the GAB. Pacquiao also pointed out then that boxers should undergo the more expensive, but detailed MRI over the current requirement of a CT scan, and be provided with insurance.
When Mitra announced later that month at the Gabriel “Flash” Elorde Boxing Awards and Banquet of Champions that he’d be imposing the requirement for an MRI “lest we be accused of reneging in our duties and functions,” some within the boxing community had balked at the idea of additional expenses.
Now, the new development instead expands their coverage while eliminating their previous expenses.
“We were there at the [DOH office] about 2-3 weeks ago and we were discussing it with their staff. [Secretary Ubial] is into sports and she understands it,” said Mitra.
He added that the memorandum of agreement was being drafted on Thursday night “for its implementation as soon as possible and for the mandates to be funded in the current and forthcoming national government budgets.” (READ: Philippine boxing culture must change to bring excitement back)
The list of boxers to be covered was submitted last week along with the addresses “so the health department will know which regional hospital they will avail of services,” Mitra also said.
An email to the DOH’s communications team seeking comment was not returned Thursday night.
The Philippines currently has 1,051 licensed pro boxers, Mitra told this writer earlier this week. Mixed martial arts, which is also licensed by the GAB under its boxing and other contact sports division – plus has the same licensing requirements – was not included in the statement. “As of now it’s boxing,” said Mitra.
Mitra also appeared open-minded about the suggestion to include Hepatitis C and HIV tests as part of its licensing process, as is the standard in New York and Nevada. Currently, only a yearly test for Hepatitis B is required.
“Will discuss with [Secretary Ubial] tonight,” Mitra said in a text message. – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.