Prelude: This was a piece I had written exactly a year ago after the infamous Suntakan sa Bulacan. I had only edited a few parts of this piece, but everything else is exactly as how I had written it then. Why not just fix it according to present situation? That would be a disservice to the moment a year ago. This is a story that deserves to be read from the lens of someone in 2018, with a message that still resonates up to today.

Lay eyes on an athlete and you’re bound to look up. Literally; they’re tall. Figuratively; they’re figures who have become much larger than life. They hold values and ideals regular human being such as us would consider to be admirable. Athletes are treated as heroes by many. Another fitting term: idol.

Idol is a term of endearment, something that’s made to show appreciation and respect. Ideally, it’s used for the best of the best. That’s why as I walk along the Meralco Gym, I’m not surprised to hear someone say, “Idol ko yan!” as 7 foot 1 wunderkind Kai Sotto entertains interviews from the media. 

I expected it to come from a fan. Except, as I looked closer, I was mistaken. It’s from fellow Batang Gilas teammate Carl Tamayo, who was smiling and laughing as he jokingly pinched Kai afterwards. That’s the thing with the term “idol”. It’s not always used to praise. Sometimes, it’s just the easiest way to call someone, like “bro”, “pare”, “chong”, “boss”, or even “paps”. It’s in these times that it feels like the word “idol” loses its ideal meaning.

There are still instances when the term remains at its purest. A great example is whenever Batang Gilas members talk about their kuyas in the Senior Men’s Team, Gilas Pilipinas. No jokes here. Nothing casual. The term idol is used at its fullest. The endearment and appreciation can be felt in an instant. They talk about their idols like an overeager kid doing his very first show and tell. 

They make sure to pay respects where it matters the most: on the court. Terrence Fortea displays the same flair Terrence Romeo does on a daily basis. Kai Sotto feels like a younger Junemar Fajardo who took in a Mega Stone to evolve from Kraken to Kaiju. Gerry Abadiano and Carl Tamayo are built to be the same kind of terror Jayson Castro and Troy Rosario are for the TNT Katropa. They’re not as polished, obviously, but the flashes are there. You see that tinge of excitement and bounce that’s unique for kids their age. 

It’s easy to forget that the members of Batang Gilas are still kids. “Ha, 16 pa lang yung mga ‘to?!” is a statement I’ve heard far too often when talking about this tall and talented group. They’ve already encountered Gilas Pilipinas a lot. But like a toddler trying to act like an adult in front of their parents, the teenagers try to hide it by controlling themselves and acting more maturely than usual during these chance encounters. The kilig remains in the inner being of these kids. The youth team members still get starstruck everytime they shake hands with their idols.

Why keep it in then? Why not just let it go and put down one’s defenses when with your heroes? Batang Gilas may be young, but they’re also special. The team members try to act cool, because the dream isn’t just to have a picture or to shake the hands of their heroes. It’s to BE like these figures. They don’t want to just be the player who asked for a picture from someone else. They want to be the ones with glory, who are idolized by Filipinos around the world.

The only way to do that is by trying their best to act mature, as if they’re seasoned veterans. It’s clear anytime that it requires effort for them to act with such behavior. They want to laugh and pinch each other so bad, but they can’t. They chose this though, because they’d do anything for your kuyas to view them in the same level. Batang Gilas doesn’t want to be kids. They want to be Gilas Pilipinas, their kuyas who have the composure and excellence that these kids seemingly lack at this stage of their careers.

Last July 2, 2018, Gilas Pilipinas was anything but. They were pit up against Australia for the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament, best remembered now as the Suntukan in Bulacan. A Basketbrawl. Thrilla in Philippine Arena. Call it whatever you want, it was a straight up mess.

Discussion regarding the incident continues to be fiery, and at the very core of everything has been the question, ““What would you do if someone hit your brother?” That was the defense many had with how Gilas Pilipinas acted during the entire fiasco. Debates still continue, with the core question left without an answer. The concept of brotherhood was clear before, but after everything that’s happened? Confusion is the more apt term rather than clarity when describing the term.

More than 10,000 miles away from the country was a brotherhood going through their own battles. Batang Gilas, that same group of kids who idolizes Gilas Pilipinas, were participating in the FIBA U17 World Cup versus the best teams in the world. It hadn’t been pretty for the team, as they were in the Group of Death along with Croatia, France and hosts Argentina. They’d played two games at that point, getting blown out by an average of 31 points by both European squads in their group. It was tough, but the team continued to battle.

They were a brotherhood with a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent their country in the biggest stage of youth basketball. They were going through this together, win or lose, always with that trademark Filipino smile.

They’ve been locked in all throughout the tournament, even having their phones confiscated during game days. But that July 2nd (Philippine time), they found the time to watch the game of their kuyas. 

Batang Gilas must have come in thrilled. They were about to watch basketball tape, but not of their own. Instead they were going to see their kuyas go through battle for the country, with more than a puncher’s chance to beat the Australia Boomers. Expected was an all out war between two quality teams.

The kids were treated to a war, but not the kind they expected. From a basketball point of view, it was a blowout, with Gilas Pilipinas facing a 31 point lead. But during the third quarter, we weren’t witnessing basketball anymore. Instead of shots being put up, it was punches. Passes weren’t being thrown, but chairs. It happened so quickly, but it created so much confusion and tension. It happened in the Philippines, but Batang Gilas could feel the tension all the way from Argentina.

Batang Gilas came out confused and shocked, just like the rest of us here in the country. Those were their idols,literally and figuratively. Literally they looked up. Figuratively, these were people who had values worthy of being emulated. Then here there were, in a brawl. They could still figuratively look up. But to call them as heroes? Beacons of hopes? Defenders of values? It did not seem fit. The title “idol” did not seem deserving in that moment.

That’s the thing with being an “idol”, it takes responsibility to be as such. People look up to you because you hold a position of power. The members of Gilas Pilipinas are the ultimate idols in Philippine Basketball. They aren’t just the best basketball players in the country. They were chosen to represent the country, to show what it means to be a true Filipino.

Believe it or not, Batang Gilas, as young and immature as they may be, hold that same responsibility. They represent the flag, just like their kuyas. The challenge for them whenever they join these tourneys isn’t just to win basketball games. Even more important is to show to foreigners what it means to truly be Filipino. Batang Gilas has been doing it in Argentina as a brotherhood. Continuing to fight, with the same smile they flash, win or lose.

Despite the concept of brotherhood being questioned endlessly over these past few days, Batang Gilas has been doing a splendid job of showing what it exactly is. They’ve endured multiple blowout losses, while experiencing a level of competition and athleticism they’re not used to seeing. Despite all of that, they haven’t lost their cool, and instead use these struggles for their growth. They are, after all, the future of Philippine Basketball. 

Batang Gilas are “idols”, much like their kuyas in Gilas Pilipinas. They’ve showcased excellence and composure within the tournament. Most importantly, they’ve successfully been representing what it truly means to be a Filipino, in the international scale nonetheless.

The question still lingers, “What would you do if someone hit your brother?” 

You defend them, but not with fists or chairs. You can send a message, but you don’t have to tarnish your identity as a process. The response shouldn’t be with fists. It should be with excellence, composure and a smile, the kind of brotherhood that makes one worthy of being called, “idol”.