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Salute to a Nagueño Olympian, now an Octogenarian

By Nathan Sergio*

November 15 last week is the 164th anniversary of the modern revival of the athletic Olympic Games, held in Athens, Greece on November 15, 1859. Thus, I think, it would be nice to share less-known information about Naga’s participation in the Olympics. In doing so, this piece of information is not missed when LGU-Naga City conducts its planned Cultural Mapping.

Unbeknownst to many in Naga City, a kababayan was an Olympian decades ago, and a famous Filipino athlete.

This Olympian is no other than BENJAMIN SILVA-NETTO (simply Ben to family and friends), now 84 years old. Born in Lerma, Naga City on April 27, 1939, Benjamin Silva-Netto was the first Filipino to compete in the Olympic marathon. He was first into middle-distance running, the 800 meters and the 1,500 meters race., during his younger days. Then, he shifted to long-distance run, the 10,000 meters and the 42K marathon. He also tried steeplechase. He was into competitive sports from 1959 to 1973, then he became a coach/mentor, chief technical official, statistician, team manager, and held the post of Secretary General of PATAFA (Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association), the nation’s governing body on track and field sports. According to an athlete blogger, Ben is said to be the best SecGen PATAFA ever had; he never lets his ego get in the way of making a decision and always made his decisions based on facts and statistics for the best interest of the team. He served PATAFA and Philippine athletes faithfully and loyally.

Benjamin Silva-Netto represented the Philippines in the 1968 Summer Olympic Marathon in Mexico City. Though he ranked 49th among the 75 competitors from 41 countries, up to now, he is still the highest ranked among the Filipinos who have competed in the Olympic marathon. Remarkably, among those he defeated in the Mexico Olympic marathon was Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia, then the reigning champion and a two-time Olympic marathon champion (1960 & 1964). Bikila reportedly quitted the race at the 18-kilometer mark; he was allegedly recovering from appendectomy and stress fracture; in July 1967, he sustained the first of several sports-related leg injuries. Ben, on the second half of the marathon, was already suffering from foot blisters (he used the new Adidas shoes he bought in Mexico). Cramps likewise affected his phase on the last three kilometers of the race. But he persevered, and finished the 42-kilometer race, for the nation’s glory and honor. In so doing, he also improved his personal best.

Before the Mexico Olympics, Ben was already a running sensation in the Philippines; he has won numerous running competitions. He was the champion in the country’s first recorded full marathon held at Roxas City in the summer of 1968 (April). According to Ben, the marathon organizer intentionally started the race at 12:00 noon such that its expected culmination is on time for the mid-afternoon Opening Ceremonies of the National Track and Field Championship. Reportedly, some runners collapsed and did not finish the marathon in Roxas due to heat, dehydration and exhaustion; not Ben, with only “lemonsito” in his mouth, and no water intake along the 42-kilometer route. He clocked 3:37:23, then the national record. This momentous event in Roxas City is remembered through a city marker installed at the marathon’s starting line. Ben’s victory in Roxas earned him the ticket to the Mexico Olympics, where he improved his time to 2:56:19. Prior to joining that marathon in Roxas, he competed in a two-day, long-distance race held in Rizal Province in 1967, a unique marathon run on “installment basis”; first day: 10K in the morning and 10K in the afternoon; second day:10K in the morning and 12K in the afternoon. Ben topped in all these four races, with an aggregate time of 2:26:49.

For his accomplishments as an athlete, Benjamin Silva-Netto landed in the news and received a number of recognitions. Philippine Collegian, the official weekly student publication of UP Diliman, in its January 16, 1962 issue, titled its banner sport news, “Silva-Netto sets 2 national records”. The Philippine’s Sportswriters Association (PSA) allegedly have cited him a few times as “Philippine’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year”; sadly, however, this is not reflected in its current website as its list of Athlete of the Year through the years merely captured the awardees from 1972 up to the present, not the years prior to 1972. In recognition to Ben’s immense contribution to Philippine Sports, particularly in Track and Field, he was offered the post of Secretary-General of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), a position he ably served for many years, from 1991 to 2014- the longest to have served as such.

Running, however, was not Ben’s first sports. He was playing softball when he was a high school student of Ateneo. It was merely accidental that he discovered his prowess in running when a classmate-friend in Trade School, a certain Tuy (he cannot recall now the first name), urged him to join a middle-distance run during an Intramural Games of the School of Arts and Trade that was held in the oval near the Naga Central School. Surprisingly, he topped said race with a wide margin from the second, who was a known runner, for which feat a teacher-coach, a certain Mr. Roldan, was ecstatic about; thus, the latter encouraged him to pursue running.

Ben is very much a Nagueno and a Bicolano. Born and raised in Naga City, he studied here for many years. He finished primary education at the Naga Parochial School in 1953, but started elementary at Tinago Central School, and studied there until grade three. He took his secondary education at the Ateneo de Naga where he graduated in 1957. Years 1959 to 1961, he was studying at the Camarines Sur National School for Arts and Trade (CSNSAT, renamed BCAT, now BISCAST), taking up Machine Shop Technology. He participated in District Meets, Inter-Scholastic Meet and Bicol Meet, where he handily defeated known local athletes in the track and field, particularly in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter run.

Remarkably, Ben finished first in the 10,000 meters run in the 1961 National Open held at the Rizal Memorial Complex, beating to the finish line by a fraction of a second the nationally known runners, who were crowd favorites. Because of this outstanding feat, he instantly became a national sports celebrity of sort. A finish line photo of that 10K race appeared in our country’s national dailies on March 7, 1961. University of the Philippines-Diliman recruited him thereafter. In UP, Ben took Mechanical Engineering, a course he was not able to finish, because he opted to grab the job opportunity at the Philippine Air Force, a job that gave him more time on running, his passion.

Ben’s last incursion into active sports was when he participated in the 1973 National Open, where he was declared champion in the steeplechase.

Ben, to this day, still attributes his skills in running from his mentor, CLARO PELLOSIS, a remarkable Bicolano athlete, who competed in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. Claro Pellosis, is a native of Minalabac, Camarines Sur.

Benjamin Silva-Netto, now retired from PAF and from running, is back to Naga, now on vacation in his newly-bought property at Balintawak Street, Barangay Lerma. He is with his beloved wife, Lydia Antiporda Rosalada of Davao, now 77, and who was also an outstanding athlete in the long jump in the national pool during her prime. Couple Ben and Lydia are US immigrants. From time to time, the couple shuttles to their only daughter living in New Jersey, USA.


Nathan Sergio is a cultural worker. A development worker, he became three-term Councilor of Naga City.


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