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Antonio “Tony” Del Monte often strikes people as snooty, high-handed and bourgeois. In simple Filipino terms, he is suplado. But, unknown to most, he is currently involved in two civic projects: a basketball clinic and the Philippine Olympics for special children.

The basketball clinic is for 9-year-olds and above. This is the regular clinic. A beginner’s clinic is given to 5-8 year-olds, to help develop their loco-motor skills. Tony has been involved in such projects for 29 years, with 18 years spent in Baguio. The most notable graduate of the basketball clinic is Zandro Limpot, who used to work as a pulot boy (those who chase and pick up tennis balls) at Surigao del Sur. Limpot used to work for a few centavos for every ball he recovered. Today, he is one of the highest-paid professional basketball players in the Philippines. Not only was Limpot given the clinic, Del Monte’s group facilitated his receiving academic scholarships too. Several of the participants of these basketball clinics are offered scholarships by prestigious private schools in the Philippines. All coaches of the basketball clinic are masteral graduates from highly-accredited schools here in the Philippines, with additional training from universities and seminars abroad. The clinic also offers community services, notably in Tondo, Manila.

As for the Philippine Special Olympics, Tony has been involved with this program since 1972. The Philippines Special Olympics holds offices at the UP Diliman Alumni Center. He has brought delegates to participate in the World Games, sponsored by the Joseph Kennedy Foundation, and served as the coach for table tennis. Yes, Tony Del Monte was the coach called down by one of the judges at the Special Olympics for shouting at his ward during the games! This is one humbling experience he will never forget – a lesson well learned. The delegates, after all, suffer from Down’s syndrome, autism, and hearing impairment. He still recalls with relish how one of the children sat quietly coloring in the aisle of the plane. When the stewardess asked him to return to his sit, the child’s face was a multitude of colors.

Tony became involved with these projects through the auspices of his friend, Nick Jorge, founder of BEST (Basketball Efficiency and Scientific Training) Center for Sports Foundation. Jorge offered Tony a chance to pursue what he calls his “apostolic mission” when the latter resigned from his post as Executive Assistant at Mercury Drugs. Tony still remembers his first day with the special children. Nick Jorge took him aside and told him, rather warned him, that the children will cover him with kisses and he should not feel repulsed. After the “introductions” with the kids, Jorge told Tony, “You may wash your face now!” Okay, the kids, especially those with Down’s syndrome, slobber rather than kiss. Yet, after that initial meeting Tony knew he was hooked. The two friends have worked hand-in-hand with the Hospicio de San Jose and Elsie Gaches Foundation. These are the two organizations that support orphaned special children here in the Philippines. Some of the Philippine delegates to the World Special Olympics come from these shelters.

There are no laws or ordinances in the Philippines that help finance such programs. Funds raised for this cause are, as Tony says, “from friends — my rich friends - to be specific.” Nick Jorge himself, “begs” for funds from his fellow Rotarians. In one incident, a child almost didn’t make it to the World Games because he didn’t have a plane ticket (travel and airport taxes are waived; these are the only concessions from the Philippine government). It was a Rotarian who gave the boy his airfare.

But this is not an isolated case. The team usually reaches the US with inadequate uniforms, shoes, and sports equipment. During the last World Games, when Tony checked on the equipment of the bowling team, he found the balls in the overhead carriage without bowling bags. Moreover, the bowling balls were only on loan to the participants, from the Baguio Country Club. This is a common scenario for the Philippine delegates to the World Games.

There have been other heartaches too. Lampang Kerubin was a movie filmed in order to raise funds for such projects. The star of the movie was a Philippine delegate to the weight-lifting division of the Special Olympics. This special child had the opportunity to meet and be hugged by Arnold Schwarzenegger, long before he became Governor of California. Unfortunately, the idea for the movie was pirated by a major film company here in the Philippines, and reproduced with an all star cast.

Tony also tried to ask the Baguio City Government for funds to help send the Baguio delegates to the World Games. He was turned down. But the moment the children won gold and silver medals at table tennis, most officials wanted photo ops with the kids. Tony refused. “Never will I allow anyone to use the kids in that manner,” he said. It is worthwhile to note that all of those involved in the Philippine Special Olympics projects are volunteers. The coaches, physical therapists, nurses, and others give their time and money for these affairs.

If Tony has persisted in his mission, it is because his mother Soledad ingrained the sense of duty in all her children. “Love the children, Antonio. And help them – especially the poor.” These are words that ring in his ears till today. Although their agricultural yields are negligible, the family tradition of playing Santa Claus to the sacadas (homeless itinerant farmers) is still practiced by the Del Monte family every December 29 at Panique, Tarlac.

- Joan Muller

(References to the persons and foundations mentioned in this story are all thanks to Tony Del Monte. He knows how to give credit where credit is due.)

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