Lawmakers push for gov’t support for nat’l athletes even in retirement

House Speaker Martin Romualdez on Thursday called on the government to support Filipino athletes even in retirement following the passing of sports legend Lydia De Vega-Mercado after a years-long battle with breast cancer.

Romualdez recalled how the decorated track star and former Asia’s Sprint Queen’s family resorted to crowdfunding to cover her medical expenses in her last days.

“Her death highlights the need for our government and the private sector to support Filipino athletes not only while they are healthy and physically able to compete but in retirement as well,” Romualdez said.

Romualdez underscored De Vega’s numerous medals in the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, and Asian Athletics Championships have brought honor and pride to the country, making her “one of the greatest and most decorated Filipino athletes.”

De Vega-Mercado passed away on Wednesday evening, 10 August, at the Makati Medical Center. She was 57.

Sympathies and condolences also poured in from other members of the Lower House.

Former President and incumbent Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stressed that De Vega-Mercado’s death is a big loss to the country.

“Lydia ‘Diay’ de Vega-Mercado’s demise is a big loss to us. Dubbed ‘the fastest woman in Asia’, she put Philippine sports on the world map and brought much honor to our country,” said the senior deputy speaker.

Arroyo wishes that De Vega’s successes will encourage more Filipinos to participate and excel in sports.

“May her achievements motivate other Filipino athletes to aspire for excellence in their chosen sport,” she said.

Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. also described De Vega as “a true Philippine sports heroine and icon.”

“Her legacy of greatness will live on. This is evident in how she paved the way for the likes of Hidilyn Diaz in capturing the imagination of the young girls in every corner of the country though the glory achieved in sports,” the lawmaker said.

During her heyday in the 1980s, De Vega was known as “Asia’s fastest woman.”

Rep. Jocelyn Tulfo of ACT-CIS Partylist and PBA Partylist Margarita “Migs” Nigrales have both expressed deep sadness over the passing of the sprinter queen.

Tulfo stressed De Vega’s achievements as an athlete brought honor and pride to the country, with her dedication and commitment touching the hearts of every Filipino.

“Her invaluable contributions to Philippine sports will undoubtedly live on in memory for future generations and will inspire other Filipino athletes, to strive for excellence,” Tulfo said.

Nograles, meanwhile, called De Vega one of the first female heroes of the country.

She expressed disappointment that there were no programs or benefits to support retired Olympians, forcing the family of the Filipina legend to plead for financial assistance from the public, which got her thinking about how to support both current and former Olympians.

Rep. Howard Guintu of the Pinuno Party noted that although De Vega may have gone, her legacy as Asia’s sprint queen will live forever.

“Thank you for being a role model to the youth and for inspiring a generation of athletes to reach for their dreams. Thank you as well for giving the Filipino nation a reason to celebrate at a time when we were being subdued by an oppressive regime,” he said.

According to Valenzuela Rep. Eric Martinez, the country “lost an all-time great, a national treasure” with De Vega’s death.

“She brought honor and glory to our country during the 80’s, as Asia’s Fastest Woman,” said Martinez, a former House Committee on Youth and Sports chairperson. “Long live the Queen!!!! Diay you will forever be remembered,” he said.

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