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Mindanao kids get chance to play terror-free soccer through Football for Peace

Ivan Saldajeno
By Ivan Saldajeno

MAKATI--Mindanao has become war-torn in recent times, and children now find it very hard to go out of the streets to play even a game of "teks" due to fears of getting hit by stray bullets.

This inspired Rookie Magtalon and some military officers to put up a special sports camp where the Mindanao kids can finally experience a life free from gunshots and the terror caused by the battles.

Enter "Football for Peace", an annual event held during the summer period where hundreds of kids mostly from critical areas in Mindanao get to learn football for free aside from others.

"Football for Peace is a character development program... for character and values improvement and nation building, getting the kids into the game to better their attitude and improve their discipline while moving towards a better life," Magtalon told Dugout Philippines during the fifth staging of the event at the University of Makati Athletic Field on Tuesday.

Magtalon later admitted that the existence of FFP, which started in 2011 in Sulu, was "unplanned".

"One day, the members of the Philippine Marines decided to play football. The kids became curious. They had never heard of football, never seen a soccer ball and a game. So they stayed to watch. When the Marines were done, the kids approached them, saying, 'Coach, pwedeng pahiram ng bola? Paano ba yan?' The Marines found it as a way to reach to the community. What started as a simple game of football turned out to be a vital instrument of good relations... It was football that captured the attention of the kids," he relayed the soccer camp's roots.

Despite the existence of AFP teams in the UFL that time, it was the Loyola Meralco Sparks, through the One Meralco Foundation, who extended a hand for Football for Peace.

"A member of the One Meralco Foundation saw an article online about Football for Peace in 2011. He was one of those who heeded the call, and the foundation gave us 500 soccer balls. When they heard more about what we're doing, they helped us by bringing in the Loyola Meralco Sparks to teach the kids football and improve their skills, which we are very grateful for. They even volunteered when we did the Peace One Day Initiative in Tawi-Tawi back in October," Magtalon told how Loyola came to the picture.

This year, more than 200 kids from Mindanao and even from the island Luzon province of Palawan participated in a free soccer camp and will get to watch Loyola's UFL season debut against Ceres on Saturday among other activities throughout the week.

About the future plans, Magtalon bared that they are considering a preseason match between two UFL teams in Mindanao.

"We've been discussing it for a while so that the kids can experience professional level of play," he said further.

In fact, Magtalon hinted that he might bring up the proposal anew once they meet right after the end of this year's edition as they begin their preparation for next year's staging.

"Immediately after this one, we're actually sitting down again to plan [the next one in] April 2017," he said.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno