Hidilyn Diaz, who delivered the country’s first Olympic gold medal, returned home Wednesday with the hope that other athletes who follow in her footsteps will succeed as well.
President Rodrigo Duterte, in an online conference call with the four-time Olympian, thanked her for her sacrifices and for the sheer grit she has shown in overcoming all the obstacles along her way.
“The nation is ecstatic about your achievement. Your achievement is the achievement of the Philippine nation. So we are extremely proud.
We cannot express even in the words of an athlete how we should really be shouting hallelujah,” the President said.
“But thank you for persevering. I hope that the years of toil, the years of disappointments and the years that bad things have happened in the past — just forget them.”
“You already have the gold — gold is gold. And it would be good for you to just let bygones be bygones and dwell solely on your victory together with your family and of course with the nation,” the commander-in-chief said.
Duterte said he will be giving Diaz P3 million aside from the P10-million incentive she is set to receive from the government for her gold medal victory.
Diaz, an Air Force sergeant, was also accorded the Presidential Medal of Merit, as well as a fully furnished house and lot in her hometown in Zamboanga.
“Over and above the rewards, it’s always the honor that counts. It is my turn to salute you. Yes, ma’am!” said Duterte who stood up and gave Diaz a salute.
Diaz, 30, left Tokyo with hopes that she will be able inspire a younger generation of athletes to dream on.
She also said she hopes the country’s sports program will become better following her achievements at the quadrennial meet.
“Of course, I hope that others will win a gold, silver or bronze,” Diaz said while still in Tokyo.
Philippine Sports Commission officials Celia Kiram and Charles Raymond Maxey welcomed Diaz at the NAIA Terminal 2 and as heavy rain pelted the surrounding area.
Diaz has not been home since last year, because she and her coaches were stranded in Malaysia from February 2020 until July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Joining Diaz in returning to Manila were her Chinese coach Gao Kaiwen, and strength and conditioning specialist Julius Naranjo, as well as sports nutritionist Jeaneth Aro and sports psychologist Dr. Karen Trinidad.
Skateboard Margielyn Didal and her coach Danilo Bautista joined the trip back to Manila on board PAL Flight 427.
Officials of the PSC waited at least an hour more as Diaz’s flight was delayed by heavy late afternoon rains.
“I’m really so happy that we finally nailed the Olympic gold. I had tears in my eyes during the medal ceremony. And we give credit to Hidilyn herself. She sacrificed a lot. We are all proud of her. We are all proud of our Filipino athletes,” said Maxey.
Earlier, the Armed Forces of the Philippines had Diaz promoted to staff sergeant rank for her achievements.
Diaz stands to receive P35.5 million, along with a house and a lot in Tagaytay and a condo unit in Eastwood City from both the national government and the private sector.
Under Philippine law, the PSC guarantees a P10 million incentive for every Olympic gold.
Diaz’s feat ended a 97-year Olympic gold medal drought since the Philippines first competed in 1924.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Michael Romero said Speaker Lord Allan Velasco initiated a “pass the hat” drive among members of the House of Representatives to raise P5 million to P10 million in cash incentives for Diaz.
But later in the day, Deputy Speaker and AAMBIS-OWA Rep. Sharon Garin said the prize money would be pooled and gifted to all Filipino athletes who bring home Olympic medals.
Romero, a long-time sports patron, will also grant Diaz an additional cash incentive worth P3 million.
The chairman of the House committee on ways and means has filed a House Bill 9891, exempting the rewards received by Diaz from any and all forms of taxes and charges.
Rep. Joey Salceda of Albay said the tax panel will deliberate on the measure “without delay” to ensure that Diaz and other winning athletes, such as Nesthie Petecio, will be able to enjoy the tax benefits as soon as possible.
The bill also ensures that the failure to issue revenue regulations providing the implementing mechanisms for the exemption will not preclude the provision from being implemented.
“This guarantees that no administrative omission will prevent the athletes and coaches from availing of the benefit,” Salceda said.
On Wednesday, more members of the House filed resolutions honoring Diaz for her Olympic feat.
“Hidilyn Diaz is a true inspiration to many Filipinos and she has definitely shown that Filipinos can compete with the best of the world and excel at the highest level,”.Deputy speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said in House Resolution 2019.
He said the Filipino weightlifter’s triumph “was even more impressive, given that she has been away from home and was stranded in Malaysia since February 2020 due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.”
“In her temporary home, Hidilyn had to improvise and train with makeshift equipment because of the travel restrictions and closure of gyms. She began training only with barbells made from plastic pipes with cast concrete weights at either end,” Rodriguez said.
Deputy Speaker and Las Piñas City Rep. Camille Villar filed House Resolution 2020, urging President Rodrigo Duterte to confer the Philippine Legion of Honor to Diaz for winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics.