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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Who is John Tiu Ka Cho?

Below are some excerpts of my keynote address for the first Grade 6 graduation ceremonies of Xavier School Nuvali held at the John Tiu Ka Cho Multi-purpose Center.

Keynote Speech
1st Grade 6 Graduation Ceremonies
John Tiu Ka Cho Multi-purpose Center
Xavier School Nuvali
March 19, 2016

By Chris Tiu (XS ’03)

Fr. Ari Dy, Mrs. Arlene Choo, dearest Xavier administrators, faculty, staff, families & graduates, good morning to you all!

It is my greatest honor to be invited as the Keynote Speaker for the first ever Grade 6 Closing Ceremonies of Xavier School Nuvali.  

To be honest, it has been a while since I was in your place, seated as a grade school graduate and looking forward to a new adventure in high school and beyond.  So seeing as I have just a few years of experience ahead of you all, let me tell you a few things that I wish I had known back when I was your age.

Live out the spirit of MAGIS. What is magis?

Let me share with you the story of an individual who has served as an inspiration to me and many others who knew him. He is not a celebrity but he has certainly let his light shine through his ordinary life. So although I’m sure most of you have heard of his name, you probably do not know his story.

He was born in the Philippines and lived a very difficult childhood. When World War 2 broke out, life became even harsher for this poor teenager and his family. They barely had anything to eat and he was forced to stop his schooling. But instead of letting fate dictate his future, he started selling cigarettes, newspapers and anything that he could get hold of at the ground floor of their tiny house in Alonso St. in Binondo, Manila. He eventually managed to finish high school through his own hard-earned money from his simple business, then later finished college as well by working during the day and going to school at night.

He got married, had six lovely children then, nightmare happened. His wife passed away at the age of 32. Their eldest child was 11 years old while their youngest was only 2 years old.

By this time, he had opened a successful hardare store in Binondo. He was working at least 6 days a week, sometimes even 7. His kids feared him but had the greatest respect for him.

This man’s business sense was impeccable. He was a stern disciplinarian. His kids didn’t get to experience the typical summer break because he required them to work in the store. Being late for appointments was a big ‘no no’. If someone gave his phone number, you’d have to memorize it without repetition. He was sharp and unstoppable.

With the success of his first hardware store, he had built several buildings and factories all over the city. He became known as the self-made Taipan from Alonso. Then just when he was growing his mini-empire, another tragedy struck.  He was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer and in a short time, in less than a year, at the young age of 62, he passed away, leaving behind a wife, 9 kids and his legacy.

This man’s name is John Tiu Ka Cho and he is my grandfather.

Sadly, I do not have any vivid memories of my ‘kong-kong’ or my lolo because he passed away when I was barely 3 years old. He was a very simple man, he wore no branded clothes and always traveled in economy class, only until he had to undergo medical treatment in the U.S. for his cancer did he ever travel on business class. As told from his story, he greatly valued education and he always said that, ‘knowledge is power’. In fact, all his sons and most of his grandsons had studied and graduated from Xavier School. He was a very compassionate and generous man. If he were still around today, I’m sure he would not have wanted his name to be displayed on the wall of this very hall.

JTKC was a true man for others. Not only did he provide livelihood to thousands of people, but he quietly donated to many causes and people in need! I can say that he is truly rich, not rich with money, but rich in graces from God, which is what ultimately matters anyway– because it is in giving that we truly receive. He always strove for excellence in whatever he did, whether as a businessman or a family man, never settling for mediocrity. In other words, bawal ang ‘pwede na’ attitude. This is what we call, Magis.

Instead of making excuses, he worked hard to turn his life around and get back on his feet – a major challenge for us in today’s world of convenience.

… In today’s modern world, I know that we sometimes feel pressured to do as others do, have as others have, dress, act, and be as others are. Social media also has a way making other people’s lives appear glamorous and fun! It has a way of making us feel entitled, that “I deserve this… I deserve that….”, a better pair of shoes, a better vacation, a better cellphone, in short, a better life.

But let me fill you in on a secret that you will learn as you grow up. Those things are only for show and will not lead us to a fulfilling and happy life. At the end of the day, our goal is to be happy, the long and lasting type of happiness. Just remember the things we learned today: Live out the spirit of Magis, keep learning, live simply, be honest to yourself and to God, be a man and woman for others.

Today we celebrate a milestone for all of you. Let’s never take for granted how blessed and lucky we are. And the best way we can thank God and our parents is by always doing our best and always doing what is right. Congratulations once again! Let your light shine. Luceat Lux.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Experience of a Lifetime

Last May 13, 2015, I had the experience of a lifetime. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever dream of coming close to a Pope! My closest encounter with any Pope was in 1995 during the World Youth Day in Manila. My dad carried me on his shoulders along the corner of Buendia and EDSA and I was able to catch a glimpse of Pope John Paul 2 in his Pope mobile for a good 3 seconds from a distance.

I flew to Rome for 3 days because I had been invited by the Pontifical Council of the Laity, one of the key arms of the Vatican, to speak in the Seminar for Sport 2015. The theme of the conference was "Coaching the Coach". I posted my speech in a previous entry in this blog. Here's the link to my testimonial.

It happened during the elimination round of the 3rd conference of the PBA. Thankfully, the Rain or Shine management and Coach Yeng were very understanding to allow me to miss some games and to take part in this rare invitation.

Anyhow, I had no idea that I was going to have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis.

What happened was actually a blessing in disguise. On the day I was scheduled to leave Manila for Rome, I decided (at the last moment) to change my flight to an earlier one, which was scheduled to arrive Rome at 7 am, an hour earlier than my previous flight. As soon as I landed in Rome, a friend of the organizer, Luciano (who you can see on my right) picked me up from the airport and told me to hurry up because we need to be in St. Peter's square by 830am for the Papal audience or else the gates will close. So I changed into my suit inside his tiny car, along the highway.

At this point, all I knew was that they had given us access to a special section where we could see the Pope closer than the thousands of other visitors of the weekly Papal audience. Our car went inside the walled Vatican city and we walked from the inside to get to the stage, which was guarded by the Swiss guards and other security members. We were led to the VIP section to the left of the stage where the Pope would be siting. We arrived just before 9am and after 5 mins, the gates closed, the band played and the Pope appeared and did his rounds through the thousands who came to the square. If I had not taken that earlier flight at the last minute, I would have not been allowed to enter! Whew!

I was so excited because we had reserved seats in the first row and we were just about 10 meters away from the Pope's chair. After he did his rounds, he walked up the stage and walked right in front of me maybe 3 meters away, waving and smiling pleasantly. Then he took his seat. I was thinking, this is unreal!!

What truly amazed me is his patience and sincerity in meeting and blessing the common people. He is 78 years old and still took time to get off his vehicle and touch the babies in the audience in the scorching summer heat.

After the 2-hour audience, he then began to make his rounds again until he came to our section, slowly shaking hands and talking to each single individual in our VIP section by the stage. As he kept getting closer to me, I was already getting nervous and rattled. I didn't know what I would say or do.

Finally after approaching like 50 people, it was my turn to meet him. I shook his hand and touched his ring and said, "Hello Holy Father, I am from the Philippines where you just visited. I am also an athlete" Honestly, I don't know why I had to say that haha! He never stopped smiling and to my amazement he said, "Please pray for me!" Then, he gave me a rosary.

I totally didn't expect this encounter, otherwise I would have prepared. Maybe I would have given him a gift, brought a rosary to be blessed or perhaps ask him to sign my jersey! Oh well...

That encounter really hit me. It was like meeting a living Saint. It was a different 'high' feeling. Deep inside I was thinking to myself, this person is so genuine and so humble, who am I to pray for him?

What an inspiring moment for me. Definitely one of the highlights of my life :) Up until today, I keep reflecting, what does God want of me? Why did he make this happen for me?

Let's all pray for our dearest Pope Francis and his mission. May his message of love, mercy and service be propagated to all ends of the world.


P.S. I kept my camera video rolling the entire time as you can see in the photos. But these photos were taken by Fotografia Felici, the official photographers of the Vatican. I just went online to select my photos and went to their store just outside the Vatican to receive the high resolution files. I paid 6 euros for each of them so I might as well post them here! Right? So pardon me for the bombarding of pics. hehe

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My response to questions re retirement

Sorry if I caused confusion with my tweets. I sent this statement to the journalists/writers who have been calling and texting asking about my possible retirement from basketball. Thanks for all your support!! :)

To those asking about my PBA status, first of all, we have to ask the ROS management if they are still interested to renew/extend my contract. I cannot just assume that they will keep me. We haven't spoken yet.

I initially intended to play in the PBA for just one contract period but now I'm reconsidering because I never thought I would still enjoy playing basketball this much at this level.
1) My teammates are just fun to be with and they are amazing players as well.
2) The owners and management are very easy to deal with and they are like family, no nonsense politics.
3) I like Coach Yeng's style of running a team & his basketball philosophy. I've been learning a lot and it is only recently that I've really been able to adjust and get my confidence and rhythm going, somewhat.
4) The ROS fans are the best!

As much as playing professional ball is enjoyable, it is also taxing physically, mentally & emotionally, which may compromise my quality of work for my other commitments.

At the end of the day, I am truly grateful to the Lord, the team, the fans and the support of my family. Basketball has been a great platform to promote my advocacies. I trust in God's plan and I pray that I will do what He wants of me.

Salamat sa lahat ng dasal at suporta!


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Veritas, Integritas, Justitia. (SERVIAM Conference for Servant Leadership. Crown Plaza. July 3, 2015).

This post contains my challenge speech to 700+ government officials, employees who attended the SERVIAM Conference for Servant Leadership, chaired by Cardinal Chito Tagle, which was held at the Grand Ballroom of Crowne Plaza in Ortigas on July 2-3. I was representing the youth sector in our panel with Mike Enriquez (Media), Riza Mantaring of Sunlife (Business) & Mrs. Juanich (marginalized sector). Congratulations to the entire Serviam team for a very successful event and may you continue to inspire and move our leaders to become true servant leaders!

I would also like to thank my friends Joren & my Baboy group (Dani, Charles, Joni, Kira, Carms, Moe, etc.) who gave me brilliant insights that helped me compose this speech.

Veritas,  Integritas, Justitia

A friend of mine told me a story of three rooms in a well-known school. 

The first room was a small audio-visual room, with less than 100 seats. It was used primarily for small classes that needed a venue for watching videos, displaying Powerpoint presentations, and affairs that required face-to-face activity. Meetings were often held in that room.

The second room was mostly an office, a center for publication and scholastic activity. It was dedicated to a great alumnus of the school. It was a place of solitude and silence. 

The third room was the grandest of the three, with at least 200 seats and tables. It was large and wide, and was the most coveted room of any class that wanted to have a big event. Lectures of very important guests were often held in it. It was almost an amphitheatre, though instead of a stage you had a big judges’ bench for mock trial play.

The names of these three rooms are, Veritas, Integritas, and Justitia, respectively. And the school involved is the Ateneo Law School. 

My friend told me that while the rooms were simply named after a virtue, he always believed that the purpose and the usage of the rooms gave more meaning to the name than the students thought otherwise.


We all know what Veritas commonly means. It means truth. The root is “verus,” which means “true,”.
Aptly enough, the first room that I mentioned, that was used for intense discussion and video was named after Truth. It was a room for organizational meetings, wherein leaders and members hashed out their objectives and methodology for the school year, debating with each other and engaging ideas head-on, face-to-face.  

This was a room that encouraged one to learn, to be educated, to form an opinion with basis and defend it if necessary. 

Hindi ba yan naman dapat yun pangunahing adhikain ng mga eskwelahan? Para matuto at maunawaan ang ibig sabihin ng “truth” or “totoo”?

As someone represeting the youth sector so jaded by the past and present, but still clinging to the HOPE promised by the future, it seems to me that the leaders of today and tomorrow have to show a desire for the Truth, Veritas. Not only for their own knowledge but also to inspire others to walk the Path of Truth.

Ano ibig sabihin nito? Dapat alam natin ang katotohanan at isinasabuhay natin ito. We want leaders who practice attentive leadership, with eyes wide open to see the joys, sorrows, desires, needs and dreams of the common man and woman. See it in the streets. Feel it. And please, do something about it. 

Meron akong kakilala na nagsabi sa akin na gusto niya magtrabaho sa gobyerno. Tanong ko, “Bakit?”. Sabi niya, “pangarap ko yun para makaahon ang pamilya ko, mabigyan ko sila ng makakainan at mapaaral ko sila.” Nag-isip isip ako. Tama nga naman siya. Walang problema run. 

Meron naman akong isa pang kakilala na nag-sabi sa akin na gumagastos siya ng daan-libo hanggang milyun-miyong piso para mangampanya upang maging konsehal sa isang siyudad. Tinanong ko “Bakit ang laki ng ginagastos mo?” Ang sabi sa akin, “alam mo parang investment lang yan sa negyosyo. Puhunan ito. Pag nanalo ako, ROI na or balik na pera ko.” Kamot ako ng ulo. Lumubog ang loob ko at talagang nalungkot ako. Ano ba klaseng mga public officials ang meron tayo?

Kaya nga tayong tinatawag na “public servants”, kasi tayo ay dapat mag-serbisyo para sa taong-bayan bago ang lahat. Hindi para tayo ay makinabang sa resources at kapangyarihan na mayroon pag nasa posisyon. Parang marami na nga ang nakalimot sa tunay na kahulugan ng “public service”.

Maganda ang sinabi ni Cardinal Tagle sa isa sa mga Leadership Seminars na ginawa ng Charis Foundation, at hinding-hindi ko ito makalimutan. Sabi niya, “the higher you go up the organizational ladder, all the more we should lower ourselves and serve more.” Imbis na gumaganda ang kotse, dumadami ang alalay, puro utos ng tao, dapat lalo tayong mag-serbisyo habang tayo ay umaangat. That is the irony of servant leadership. Jesus himself was a leader and king, but he served the people, he even washed their feet and even died on the cross. Yan ang totoong leader. 


Integritas comes from the root word “integer,” which refers to something whole, complete, perfect. We often know this word as “integrity.” Put simply, integrity is the result of having character, of knowing, saying, and acting with just one moral compass. 

The room Integritas was designed for solitude and self-reflection, which I think is an ideal setting for building one’s character. Character is designed internally, after all. But once designed, it must be published and expressed to the world.

I think that integrity is something that the youth hunger for so much in our leaders. We have seen time and again politicians go back on their word, come up short on their promises, and overall swing from one side of the political fence to the other just because of a power-shift. We have seen officials compromise principles they have sworn oaths to defend because of greed or fear. If there is anything the youth cannot stand, it is hypocrisy, dishonesty, corruption.

Kapag ang isang tao ay honest or hindi nangungurakot, ito ay hindi ibig sabihin na mayroon na siyang integridad. Incompetence is also a form of corruption. It is corruption of the will. Part of Integritas is excellence, not having a “pwede na” attitude. 

For instance, there is a study on the speed of doing business across Asia, and we are one of the lowest. Then finally now, we have a test case that it can be done in 15 days only. Kaya naman pala eh! Keep it up! Pero bakit ngayon lang? Bakit parang kapag sa private sector parating mas mabilis ang pag proseso ng mga bagay bagay? Kapag privately funded ang isang national sports team, nakakakuha ng gold medal sa international competitions. Kung kaya ng private sector, siguro kaya rin natin.

Only a person of integrity will have the credibility to tell his/ her underlings to work hard and honestly. Parang sa basketball lang yan, kapag tamad o makasarili ang coach o team captain, ano kayang klaseng kultura ang lalaganap sa koponan?

I hope you do not see our demands as too harsh, but we youth are easily discouraged. When we see rules being flouted, being bent by our elders, we lose respect for both the rules and our elders. Do not create in us cynics.

We have a great deal of respect for leaders who continue to educate themselves. We also have a great deal of respect for leaders who are honest and cannot be corrupted. Combine that, and the respect we can give will know no limits. 


There’s a famous Roman saying: “fiat justitia, ruat caelum” or “let justice be done, though the heavens fall.” This is such a dramatic line, of course, but resonates with a very human need: fairness. In a land of fairness, people are willing to be patient, to persevere through hardship, because they know that their suffering and pain will somehow be fairly compensated, be it through excellent services, an increase in jobs, and societal stability. 

I think we need to get rid of some notions that justice means an equal result for anyone. It does not. Alam niyo, naintindihan namin na mahirap talaga maging public official. Imagine, ang baba na nga ng sweldo and you are serving the people every single day but then you never get enough credit for it. Ang sasabihin pa sayo, “eh kasi trabaho niyo naman talaga yan eh, dapat lang!” Unfair diba? Well, even if we don’t get recognized for it, ok lang. Kahit mababa pa rin ang sweldo, idaan sa legislative o sa executive branch. It is definitely not an excuse to be corrupt or inefficient.

Remember the Justita room? Engrande ito at puno ng litrato ng mga alumni ng Ateneo Law na naging Supreme Court Justice. Pero sa kwarto rin na ito, makikita sa bintana ang kahirapan at ang nakakalungkot na kalagayan ng mga bahay sa Makati at Mandaluyong. From there, you see the people who need justice and mercy. We need to provide hope for the marginalized by giving them shelter, education, by treating them with dignity, respect and love. That is mercy and justice. 


Before I end, I just want to say that many of us decry the seemingly degrading morality of the youth today. We cite TV, social media, games, and simple laziness as something so prevalent among the youth. I agree with you. But let me ask you, are you a role model to the youth around you? I urge you to please be Knights of Honour, Knights of truth and face the dragons of our time. And we, the youth, will follow you. Sasabihin ko sa inyo na ang kabataan ay parating naghahanap ng idolo o ehemplo. The youth is hungry for role models. And we will not often find the right ones in Hollywood or on TV. Pero sana, sana naman ay makakahanap sila dito sa atin.

Alam niyo ba na ang Time magazine ay tinawag kaming mga kabataan na makasarili, tamad at entitled, lagi na lang “I deserve this and that”, pero ayaw mag trabaho. Siguro may konting katotohanan. But on the flipside, we are also very idealistic, very tech-savvy, creative and passionate. Do you agree? We dream of a better world. We are passionate about so many things. Sports, music, arts, video games, movie stars, our careers, our social life. 

My challenge to you is… how do you channel this idealism, creativity and passion to productive use for the betterment of the individual and the nation? How do we promote a culture of sacrifice, service and giving instead of always receiving?

I urge all of you who are here today to see if you mirror a faithful follower of Christ, to see if you are being an instrument of Christ. Nothing I have told you will sway the youth from cynicism if they remain words. We are a frightfully energetic lot, but we are also prone to depression if we see our world run by those without a conscience. 

And in everything, love. Love will push us to do more for our country than we ever thought possible. Love will let us conquer our enemies and even our own weaknesses, because someone who loves has no true enemies. Love allows us to live out our 3 pillars. Veritas, Integritas and Justitia. 

Let love define our leadership. That is our challenge. Remember the words of Jesus: “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21)

Maraming salamat po!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015


This is an essay that I wrote and submitted to Lille Catholic University for an honorary doctorate degree that they will be conferring on Fr. Ben Nebres, the former President of Ateneo de Manila. I thought I might as well post it in my blog since this year is the 10th year anniversary of our exchange program in France. It just seemed liked yesterday. Wow! How time flies! Congratulations Fr. Ben!!


Palais de Beaux Arts
If I were to name one program during my University stint in Ateneo that I would want to do all over again, it has to be the JTA or Junior Term Abroad program. It was in 2005 when I did my exchange program in Lille Catholic University, together with 8 other students from Ateneo.  We were only the 3rd batch in Ateneo to take advantage of this program to study abroad, interact with foreign students and immerse ourselves in the local culture. We did not only have the time of our lives but the entire experience certainly gave us a broader perspective of the world.

Joni Ong, my co-JTA student from the Philippines and now General Manager of Jeron Distributions said “the trip made me realize that there was so much in the world I didn’t know. And I think it sparked the wanderlust that I have right now, the constant need to learn and explore the world.”

City Center
The 5-month stint allowed us to see the world through different lenses through our conversations with international students and through our travels all around Europe. In fact, more than anything, it empowered us as individuals. Atty. Kira Ang, a Junior Associate Counsel from EHM Aboitize Equity Ventures from the Philippines said “we thought we couldn’t possibly compare with the Europeans who are taller, more confident and more assertive than us Filipinos, but through the JTA, we realized that hey, we could actually compete with them.”

With other International students
Also, this experience forced us to leave the comforts of our homes and live independently. We had no choice but to do the domestic work ourselves. For us Filipinos from Ateneo, it allowed us to develop a strong bond which we share until this very day. For us Filipinos who were able to experience the JTA, we can proudly claim that this served as a preparation and more so, an inspiration to kickoff our careers. Charles Chua, VP of Credit Trading of the Royal Bank of Scotland admitted, “Living in France prepared me to be independent and to be appreciative of the different cultures of the world. It helped jumpstart my ambition and career.”
I learned to cook for the first time

My 10 sqm room
“Living in France is possibly the starting point of my journey in law and public service. The privilege of education, the longing for family and home, the company of bright-eyed and curious individuals, mixed with the air of patriotism indubitably made me question what I can do for my country.” says Atty. Daniel Luz Bolong who is now with the Office of the Solicitor General and a lecturer at the Ateneo Law School.

The business courses we took at IESEG proved to be very valuable for me, especially as a businessman. It was also the abundance of baguettes and croissants that made me learn to appreciate these French delicacies, which eventually led me and my partners to bring the popular French boulangerie and patisserie called Maison Eric Kayser to the Philippines. Today we have 5 shops and we continue to exert effort in educating the market on how to appreciate French breads and pastries.
While the JTA experience was life-changing, it has also challenged us to know ourselves and know what we truly value. Monique Buensalido, Digital Communications Director of Buensalido and Associates Public Relations said “I learned to discover other cultures and to hold my ground when it came to my values and beliefs as a Filipino when I saw how other people viewed our country.” 

Certainly, the JTA experience has created lifelong memories and also enriched our lives. But aside from all the positives that we were able to take home with us, it is the rare chance of being an ambassador to our own country at a very young age that makes us truly proud. 

We are extremely grateful to Ateneo de Manila University and Lille Catholic University as well as all the individuals who made this experience a possibility, with special mention to our then University President, Fr. Ben Nebres and Dean Rodolfo Ang of the School of Management. As a member of the pioneer batch that went to Lille in 2005, I cannot imagine how many more individuals and how many more lives have been changed today through this valuable partnership. 

This is indeed a wonderful blessing!


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Stroke of God

International Sports Seminar
"Coaches: Educating People"
May 14-15, 2015
Villa Aurelia, Rome

Below is my testimony on How Sports Changed my Life in the seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity division of the Vatican. I have to say that it was a very enriching and inspiring seminar, which focused on the role of the coaches as life coaches more than just technical coaches. The presentations and discussions were very insightful. Maybe I will write another post about my learnings another time.

Good afternoon everyone, I am Chris Tiu from the Philippines. I am 29 years old and recently married. I wear a lot of different hats but I have to say that my profession as an athlete is something I take very seriously.

To give you an idea, basketball in my country can be likened to how football is in Europe & South America, how hockey is in Canada or how rugby is in New Zealand. Filipinos are just crazy about basketball.


Until today, my involvement in the sport constantly changes my life as well as my perception of life, I would say, for the better. But more importantly, it is a medium that brings me closer to God and strengthens my faith. It was through this sport that I experienced my first miracle, and thankfully it happened at a very early age.

When I was 11 years old, my school team won the championship in our league back home in the Philippines. As a result, we were invited to represent the Philippines in the Las Vegas Easter Classic where we would compete against Americans who were much bigger and definitely more athletic. Unfortunately, because of my lack of height and confidence, I was a “bench-warmer”. You know what they say, “bench-warmers” sit on the bench long enough to keep it warm for the star players of the team. That was basically our role.

Surprisingly, the undersized underdogs from the Philippines were able to conquer the odds and we made it all the way to the championship match. On the day before the championship game, we were resting in our rooms in the hotel when a bunch of older, notorious boys from an older team barged inside our rooms. They were so excited to show us their new discovery – the Pay-Per-View box beside the TV. They activated a channel and couldn’t contain their excitement. Since we were in Las Vegas, you could already guess what type of show it was.

I remember my mom telling me that we shouldn’t watch indecent and immoral shows. So I hid under the blanket because I didn’t want to watch. But the older boys were very aggressive. They were tickling me and coercing me to watch. Soon, everyone else in the room was watching. So I left the room, went outside and prayed the rosary, which my mom gave me before I left, reminding me that the Holy Rosary will protect me.

The following day was the championship game. It would have been a huge deal if we won because never has any Philippine team won in this international competition. In basketball, only 5 players play in the court at a time. I was the 10th man, meaning I was usually one of the last players to enter the court, if we were even called by the coach to play. But that day, things were not going our way. We were playing bad. To make matters worse, two of our best players got injured. One fouled out. Another star player couldn’t fly to the US because of VISA problems. We were close to giving up.

So during the 2nd half of the game, our coach had no other choice but to call on me, his benchwarmer. Miraculously, we made an unbelievable comeback. In the end, we won the championship. We made history and also made the headlines in the Philippines. And even more miraculously, I played the best game of my life. I played like I never did before –I was scoring, assisting, playing good defense. Guess what, I was eventually named MVP. I went from a benchwarmer to an MVP all in one day. A “nobody” that God decided to make a “somebody”.

I truly believe that there was a force in me that was not my own doing, but God’s mighty hand, maybe saying to me, that I had done something right and pleasing to Him. And it was clearly manifested through the game of basketball. However, to be clear, I don’t believe we are always necessarily rewarded for our good actions. That’s why I consider this experience all the more a miracle. Most of the time, we must persist in our prayers and deeds. Mother Teresa said, “The good you do today will often be forgotten, do good anyway.” For sure, if we remain faithful to Him, our reward may not be in this world, but in a better place.

In any case, that experience changed my life. I gained confidence like never before. It gave my coach confidence in me. And it was a start of many more championships and MVP awards for me. Today, basketball is my livelihood. It is a platform for me to serve God.

Looking back, it is easier for us to see how my “good” behavior was connected with an MVP award. But at 11 years old and when all your peers are influencing you to “go with the flow”, it can be very tough to make the right choice. Sometimes you are not even certain if you made the right decision. After the tournament, my coach punished those who participated in the viewing session and uttered a few words to me, “you did the right thing”. That was enough for me to have a sigh of relief and it gave me the courage to do the right things. That’s how important a role a coach has most especially in the formative years.


We often talk about how sports promotes the development of human virtue, like discipline, perseverance, sacrifice, modesty, excellence, teamwork, and so on. Since the very beginning of my basketball journey, I am extremely grateful to have been mentored by very capable and reputable basketball coaches. I had a coach who was a discipline administrator in school, a teacher, a former NBA player, an Olympian coach and even a coach who was also a congressman. What’s important was that they were life coaches as well, whether they knew it or now. Their words, and more so, their actions on and off the court cling to us vividly and most certainly affect the way we make decisions.

Athletes, on a daily basis, face challenges like balancing academics, securing playing time, battling injuries, dealing with sports ‘politics’ and worse, being victims of structural injustices. I have to say that these, if handled well, build character and prepare us for the real world at an early age.

I played college ball for a Jesuit-run University called Ateneo in Manila. Our rival school was de La Salle University, another elite school with a formidable basketball program. It was like Real Madrid playing Barcelona or North Carolina vs Duke. People would camp overnight to secure tickets. The coliseum is packed with 20,000 people, one side wearing blue, the other green. You can hear the cheering and the sound of drums reverberating throughout the coliseum.

It was a close game with my team coming from behind on a run. The lead of the opponent was only down to 5 points after being down by as much as 17 points. We finally had momentum. I was a sophomore point guard then. I made a nice steal. I was on a fast-break all by myself and I could feel the excitement of our crowd. I had a wide-open layup ahead of me, and to my devastation, I missed. To those who don’t understand basketball, it was like missing a penalty kick in football, but without the goalkeeper. Anyway, that killed our momentum and we lost the game.

It also killed my spirit and my confidence. The next day, I could not bear to walk in school with my head up or make eye contact with anyone. I know I was being ridiculed and I was too embarrassed. Thank goodness Facebook and Twitter did not exist then. We eventually got eliminated that season by our archrivals. I was at my weakest point in my entire basketball journey. So I took a year off from basketball and went to France on an exchange program. I prayed to God and I worked harder than ever when I came back. In the following years, I was appointed Team Captain. I made clutch shots, made it to the Mythical Team and to cap it all, we won the collegiate championship in my senior year against that same team. And so many doors were opened for me!
That humiliating experience taught me to be strong mentally and emotionally. Failure brought me to my lowest of lows. I felt that nothing could get worse. My coaches helped me to get back on my feet. Fr. Nebres, the President of the University then, told me these words that I cannot forget up to today. He said, “If you can handle the worst possible scenario, then what else are you afraid of? You will be fine.” It made me a more courageous player and also a more courageous person. It was indeed a character-building experience, not to mention, life-changing. I thank basketball for this.


Athletes are exposed to so many moments of chance every single day, in the many hours of training and competition. And these moments may have significant impact. One bad bounce of the ball could cause you to lose a championship. One bad call of the referee can change the outcome of a game. One wrong move could fracture a bone or tear a ligament. One trade decision could end the career of a pro athlete. There are just too many variables beyond our control. The exposure to these uncertainties on a daily basis builds a certain kind of individual, which allows him to cope in life as well.

In my basketball career, there were so many unexpected twists and turns that allowed me to get to where I am today. If it had not been for one moment or one small decision, I could have been in a totally different place right now. It is only in retrospect that we realize how everything was so well crafted and planned by the Ultimate Architect. Truly, there are no accidents in God’s plan.

Every shot, pass, steal, substitution, defensive stop all have repercussions. The hundreds of decisions that an athlete has to make on and off the court define the person. I believe that this ability to make numerous decisions in an environment of uncertainty taught me how to trust and let go, which I realized can be seemingly difficult for a non-athlete. We’ve learned to be appreciative of every opportunity and blessing given to us. We’ve learned to submit ourselves to the wonderful hand of God.

St. Augustine very aptly said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”

Sometimes when we think we’ve got things figured out, and all circumstances seem to be in our favor, we still fall short. In the same way, when it seems that all things are against us, and there is no chance of victory, we end up winning or reaching our goals. Some people say it’s a stroke of luck. I prefer to think of it as a stroke of God – a mysterious force that nobody can explain nor understand. From my childhood miracle in Las Vegas, to my adversities in Ateneo, I am grateful that I get to witness and experience being puzzled yet amazed every single day by His brilliant stroke, through this game called basketball.


Photos courtesy of Philip Sison

Friday, January 9, 2015


I guess the consolation of getting eliminated in a PBA conference is that I get to catch up on my other work and I get to post a new blog entry. 

I’ve been wanting to blog about this since I spoke at the Youth Rally for the Pope in Araneta Coliseum last month.

As we all know, Pope Francis will be here in a few days and many of us are really excited. The first Jesuit Pope is enjoying an approval rating that many political leaders would like to have. This is what the church needs most especially in this day and age when she is facing many long-standing challenges including dwindling church attendance and the damaged moral authority of some clergy.

The last time Pope John Paul 2 came to Manila in 1995 for the World Youth Day, I was 10 years old and I was fortunate to have caught a glimpse of him in his Pope Mobile along EDSA-Buendia. I remember my dad carried me on his shoulders so that I could see the Pope pass amidst the sea of people.


Personally, there are many things I like about this Pope. But if I had to choose, I would say it has to be because of his simplicity and compassion, very fitting with the theme of his Papal visit which is “Mercy & Compassion”. Right from the moment of his election, he refused the traditional red cape and opted to hop onto a bus instead of the papal limo. He kissed, served and showed compassion to the most marginalized people in society.

This reminded me of what Cardinal Tagle taught us in his keynote speech in our Charis Leadership Summit last year, “The higher we go up the organizational ladder, the lower we should go and the more we should serve”. This paradox is very true to be an effective leader because conventional thinking would excite us of the power and prestige that comes as we move up to the so-called “leadership positions”.  When in fact, the higher we go, the more we should serve.  This is what we call Servant Leadership and Pope Francis is a living example. St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, reminded us to be humble because Jesus, our role model was humble.

Pope Francis’ passion to serve has challenged the prevalent culture’s approach to leadership, how leaders live and what they value. Our culture is becoming self-absorbed and fascinated with superficial pursuits such as money, power, status and even the number of likes on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. On social media, everyone seems to have a ‘perfect’ and nice life. This is why we should be wary of what we aspire for. Are our goals going to give us lasting happiness? What will? Again, this Pope reminds us to focus not on ourselves, but rather on the poor, the sick and those marginalized. Hopefully in time, it will create a ripple effect from a culture of selfies to a culture of service. 

I think another reason why Pope Francis has become so loved is because he does not condemn those who are ‘lost’ or confused. But rather, he listens and welcomes them back home just as God extends His infinite mercy to us sinners.


Now, how do we prepare ourselves for the coming of the leader of the Catholic Church? Here are three very simple ways that could help us maximize and fully appreciate his visit.

#1) First is to develop a strong spiritual and prayer life. Being a Jesuit, Pope Francis himself engaged in what we call the Spiritual Exercises, this is the core of the Ignatian Spirituality and Jesuit life. It is a series of meditations that allows one to ponder on your own life, Jesus’ life and how one can follow Jesus in their own concrete circumstances.

For me, developing a spiritual plan is like creating a fitness plan. You need to integrate it to your daily life and set aside time everyday for prayer and reflection. Since I am a busy person, my spiritual director came up with a plan for me that is workable despite my chaotic schedule. I’m sure he won’t mind that I share it with you.

1)   5-minute morning prayer the moment I wake up
2)   Visit to the blessed sacrament
3)   Reading of the New Testament for 5 minutes + a short silent reflection
4)   Night time prayer with 3 Hail Marys
5)   Confession (at least once a month)

This is to be done daily. But I have to admit that many times, I’ve been a delinquent student.

Now why should we do this? When we are in silent prayer, we become detached from the daily grind of things. We speak to God and more importantly, we allow Him to speak to us. Many realizations and conversions occur during these moments of silence and solitude with our Lord. Also, I firmly believe that our consequential actions will naturally overflow from the interior peace and joy that we experience with Him. Lastly, we cannot bring others to Christ if he doesn’t reside in our hearts. Simply, we cannot give what we don’t have.

#2) Second basic way to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Pope is to take care of our academic duties or our work, for those who are working. Sounds simple right? It is. Oftentimes we take these for granted. But we forget that our schooling or our jobs are gifts to us from God. We must value them by practicing excellence, honesty and humility not just for our personal growth, but also because it is our way of contributing to nation-building. We may not see the results immediately, but our personal contributions as well as the virtues we develop will create a more visible impact to our society eventually. Our nation needs competent and virtuous leaders, or else we achieve nothing. This is also our best way to show our appreciation to our Lord for the blessing of an education and a job.

#3) Last is to do our apostolic duties. We all have an obligation to evangelize or to do “apostolate work”.  In the recent World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero, the Pope called out to the youth, “I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets…”

How do we do this? It start at home, with your closest family members and friends. There are times when we want to do outreach activities to the needy or other marginalized sectors of society. This is wonderful! But we might forget that our most immediate apostolic duties start at home, by inviting them to pray or simply by being a good parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, etc. An effective way to be a light of Christ is by serving as a good example. Like they say, actions speak louder than words.

Hope this helps, not only in preparation for the coming of the Pope, but continued even afterwards until it becomes fully integrated in our lives. It might be difficult at the beginning, but the more we do it, the more it becomes 2nd nature. We may fall at times but what’s important is the constant struggle and effort to make Christ happy.

Happy weekend folks!