The Philippines has seen its share of armed conflicts throughout history. To this day, there are war-torn areas being serviced by the Philippine Marine Corps in order to bring peace in the country. While guns and other firearms are the main weapons of soldiers from both sides of the conflict, there was another tool used by the Marines in winning battles – a football.
Marines are known for warfare, although there are times when they’re called to do things outside the call of duty. One man who did so is current Marine Corps Special Director Captain Caesar Ryan Gandeza.
A member of Philippine Military Class 2008, Capt. Gandeza has been in service for seven years and has undergone combat duties in Sulu, Zamboanga City, Misamis Oriental, and Tawi-Tawi before being assigned in Manila.
The Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya native had played football up to the regional level in his elementary days and continued playing in the PMA. He then put his love of the sport to good use in the most “accidental” of ways. Here is the story of the serendipitous Football For Peace program.
“Dinala ko lang yung passion ko (sa Sulu). Before reporting to the cooperation area, nagdala ako ng football. Ginawa namin, nagtawag lang ako ng tropa tapos naglaro lang kami ng football. Habang naglalaro kami dumami ang mga batang gusto manood. Nanonood lang sila then after sometime, after ng morning calisthenics namin, naglaro kami ng football and then ang daming bata. Pag-alis namin, ‘sir pwede bang maglaro?’, sabi ng mga bata,” Capt. Gandeza reminisced.
It was from that simple pickup game of football when Football For Peace started. Capt. Gandeza shared that the kids had played for such a long time that it was he and his fellow soldiers who had to take their ball in the evening. After some time, he suggested that they put up a football clinic, which became so successful that their lack of footballs became a problem.
Capt. Gandeza and his fellow soldiers instilled discipline, respect, and even hygiene lessons in the kids they trained. The effects were so great that even the older members of the community followed the children’s lead by putting a stop to gambling operations and keeping their areas clean.
However, all good things inevitable end and in this case, it was an emotional farewell. Capt. Gandeza shared, “Nung umalis kami sa lugar na yun, normally parang wala lang eh pero hindi eh. Nung umalis kami sa lugar na yun, yung mga bata grabe yung ano… kulang na lang ibalik ang mga sundalo sa kampo. Yung mga nanay, ayaw naming makita mong umiyak kaya ayaw namin lumabas pero hagulgul sila dun nung umalis kami sa community.”
From then on, the simple football clinic grew. Capt Gandeza said, “Nireplicate namin yan throughout the companies na nag-iimplement ng clinic and that’s how it spread, from one company to other companies, to a battalion, to a brigade, to the whole, to the Marine Corps and to the conflict areas handled by the Philippine Marine Corps.”
The challenge that the Marines faced was mainly the lack of equipment. Capt. Gandeza stated they had practically begged sponsors to help them. He added, “Dito na pumapasok si sir Rookie (Nagtalag). Siya yung nag-link sa amin sa lahat ng corporations sa Manila na kumuha ng napakalaking suporta para sa bola, uniform, sapatos, and the rest, media mileage, lahat. Sila nag-connect sa amin and we shared our stories sa lahat.”
As stated earlier, it’s been roughly five years since the Football For Peace program was initiated. Capt. Gandeza reflected that the program has been very beneficial for the Marines themselves. The program allowed the Marines to show the communities that they sincerely cared for them. Rather than just simple medical missions, Football For Peace allowed the Marines themselves to become members of the community.
“Yung community na mismo ang lumalapit sa amin na nag-express ng kanilang pasasalamat at the same time kung ano kailangan nila sa community. Yung mga concerns nila linalapit nila sa amin. Hindi naman sa natutugunan namin pero little by little nasasatisfy namin. Natuto kami makisama sa kanila genuinely rather than pakitang tao lang”, explained Capt. Gandeza.
Probably the biggest activity Football For Peace has had this year was when they brought together more than 200 kids from different parts of Metro Manila to play football. Aside from playing football, the kids were brought to different venues to further enrich their knowledge. Capt. Gandeza was overwhelmed with the effects of the trip on the kids.
“Not unlike before na… alam mo yung tatanungin mo yung bata sa Manila, ‘anong gusto mong maging paglaki mo?’, and they would readily give you an answer pero doon hindi nila alam. Pero right now marunong na silang ‘gusto ko maging doktor’, ‘gusto ko maging nurse’, reporter, journalist.
“We gave them back their capability to dream unlike before na yung mind setting nila ay within the confines of a small island in Sulu. Right now lumalaki na yung pangarap nila and it faces a new challenge for us – yung education side ng Football For Peace.”
As with all programs like Football For Peace, growth is the only means for survival. Capt. Gandeza shared they hope to put up a foundation which will handle all Football For Peace-related activities and also to institutionalize the program in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In addition to that, he stated that they also wanted to create a football school just like the PMA, which would produce professional footballers.
While peace in the Philippines may seem to be a distant dream, programs like Football For Peace started by Capt. Gandeza that brings all Filipinos one step closer to fulfilling that dream.