For the last four years, Jaja Santiago has played more games in Japan than in the Philippines.
During that time, it’s not just her that has fallen in love with the country. Yes, Japan has fallen in love with her as well.
That is why part of Ageo Medics’ pitch to her before her impending free agency is that they are willing to naturalize the middle blocker out of Tanza, Cavite.
“Kalagitnaan pa lang ng liga, gusto na nila ako mag-stay. Gusto nilang palitan yung nationality ko actually,” the 25-year-old bared to Volleyball DNA.
“Gusto nila ako mag-stay pa dun at tulungan palitan yung nationality ko.”
In all professional leagues in Japan, naturalized citizens are classified as locals. This is the same case as Nick Fazekas has in the B.League with Kawasaki Brave Thunders.
Though it has always been Santiago’s dream to play on the big stage which is the Olympics, what’s stopping her from accepting the offer is her love for the country.
“May dream ako makapaglaro sa Olympics pero siyempre may pride pa rin naman ako bilang Pilipino,” she continued as Japan has played in the Olympics twice for the past four cycles.
“Gusto ko tulungan yung bansa natin na dun sa goal ko na yun, gusto ko kasama yung kapwa Pilipino ko.”
Still, it lingers at the back of her mind that there’s another option for her when all else fails saying, “Kung wala talagang chance, why not? Pero it’s on the back of my mind na puwede ako magpalit ng nationality.”
With regards to where she is headed after fulfilling her obligations with Chery Tiggo in the Premier Volleyball League, the 25-year-old bared that her agent has sent fillers to teams in Turkey and China. Santiago had to politely turn down playing in Turkey as they want her to play the opposite position while China will be a huge gamble for her part.
Over in the V.League, three teams tried to pry her from Saitama, namely Toray Arrows, Kurobe AquaFairies, and PFU BlueCats.
Santiago though sees playing for Kurobe and PFU as a demotion as they finished 11th and 10th, respectively, during the 2020-21 V.League season. Toray, on the other hand, finished in second place in the league but only finished in seventh-eighth place in the cup tournament.
Making her stay with Ageo Medics for another season is the opportunity presented to her by her Brazilian coach Antonio Marcos Lerbach.
“Gusto ko makuha yung opportunity na makapaglaro sa mataas na team pero ayoko rin iwan yung opportunity ng Brazilian coach ko sa Ageo. Bago lang siya e. Sabi nga niya, may magandang plano siya sa akin kaya kailangan kong mag-stay.”
Moreover, Santiago still has unfinished business with Ageo Medics as she wants to help them end an eight-year championship drought.
But for now, the National University product is relishing the milestone she achieved.
“Hindi ko ine-expect na mangyayari ito — na magcha-champion kami at ako ang makakakuha ng first Filipino to win a championship internationally. Nakaka-proud na kahit Pilipino tayo… Alam naman natin na maraming talento ang Pilipino na hindi nakikita internationally so ito na yung simula. Isa ako dun sa una naipakita ang ano ang talento ng Pilipino.”