MANILA: Airwoman Sgt. Hidilyn Diaz was hailed as a “national treasure” on Tuesday, a day after securing a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, a first for the Philippines after nearly a century of waiting.
On Monday night, Filipinos took to social media to celebrate their “pride and glory” after Diaz snatched the elusive Olympic gold in the women’s 55kg weightlifting category, ending the Philippines’ 97-year drought in the arena since entering the Olympics in 1924.
Malacañang Palace, government, defense and military officials, lawmakers, and fellow athletes also sent congratulatory messages to Diaz, who is set to receive a “hero’s welcome” after coronavirus disease (COVID-19) checks from the Philippine Sports Commission.
“The Palace congratulates Hidilyn Diaz for bringing pride and glory to the Philippines for winning the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal,” Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Twitter post.
“Congratulations, Hidilyn. The entire Filipino nation is proud of you. Laban, Pilipinas (Fight, Philippines)!” he added.
Another Malacañang official, Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communication Communications Office, said that Diaz’s win “showcased Filipinos’ talent as world-class athletes.”
Diaz will return to the Philippines on Wednesday, following which she, along with her team, will be hotel quarantined for seven days. All athletes, coaches, and officials are required to leave Japan within 48 hours of completing their set events or tasks.
“Hidilyn wants to be with her family, who she hasn’t seen for more than one and a half years now,” Philippine Olympic Committee President Rep. Abraham Tolentino said.
Diaz is set to receive a cash windfall of over 35 million pesos, a house and many other rewards from the government, private sector and well-wishers for her “epic Olympic performance.”
It is a sentiment echoed by the Department of National Defense and ranking military officials who lauded Diaz for bringing “glory” and “pride” to the country, while Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that Diaz’s success was a “testament to the unwavering spirit of the Filipino to rise above all odds.
“Your One Defense Team is proud of you, Sergeant Diaz!” Lorenzana said in a message to reporters.
Diaz, who hails from Zamboanga, joined the Philippines Air Force (PAF) in 2013 and is currently working with the Civil-Military Operations Group.
“The men and women of the PAF join the country in celebrating this historic event ... Congratulations and Mabuhay, Sgt Diaz!” said the PAF’s commander, Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes, while Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana added that the military is “now more than ever inspired by her exceptional hard work, perseverance, and dedication.”
On Tuesday, Senator Pia Cayetano, sponsoring Senate resolution no. 805 commending Diaz, said that “a ticket to the Olympics is very rare, but the Olympic gold is reserved only for the best.
“I’d like to believe that when she took her first step and was on the Olympic stage in 2008, at the tender age of 17, that gold was already hung around her neck. Because we do not see all the preparation, the discipline, the perseverance, the daily struggles that go on every day, and that went on in the first few years leading to her first Olympics,” Cayetano said.
“She persevered … And (as) we all know, (with) very limited support. To believe in herself, and for the few people who believed in her, we need to honor them as well because she could not have done this alone.”
The lawmaker said Diaz’s win was commendable amid the pandemic and considering “her main competitor, whom she beat, is from China.
“Unlike in the Philippines, China’s been pretty much back to normal with its residents living a fairly normal life, being able to go out and move around. And this is what this woman has been able to achieve in the year 2021, in the time of COVID-19 … It takes a lot to do that,” Cayetano said, adding Diaz had also broken the glass ceiling for other female athletes.
“She never made excuses for her sex, despite being in a sport that is dominated by men. I can just imagine the kind of discriminatory remarks that she has had to endure as a female athlete … Hidilyn, you break the glass for all the young girls that follow.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Diaz deserved to be commissioned as an officer of the AFP.
“As chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, I would strongly recommend to the AFP leadership that she be given a rank as a commissioned officer of the PAF. It’s the least the service can give her,” Lacson said during a TV interview.
“Such a commission — either as a reserve or regular officer — is not just in recognition of her extraordinary feat, but also in recognition of her great potential to provide a good example to her fellow soldiers both as an athlete and as a leader,” he added.
Lacson said Diaz’s win gave 110 million Filipinos a significant reason to celebrate amid the “problems they now face” due to the pandemic.
“She makes us Filipinos very, very proud,” he said, saying Diaz’s saluting the Philippine flag and singing the national anthem at the Olympics “was the most touching moment that will be relived in our memories for a long, long time.”