The man named Manulat

SPORTING CHANCEJoaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) – December 31, 2020 – 12:00am

Back in the 1950s, there lived a 6-1 Filipino-Cuban-Spanish basketball player whose specialty was defense. Ramon Manulat was known as a lockdown defensive guard who paved the way for the likes of Ed Ocampo, Sonny Jaworski, Wynne Arboleda, Ryan Reyes and Chris Ross to follow in his footsteps. He didn’t rack up stats like his celebrated Philippine national teammates Caloy Loyzaga, Lauro Mumar and Tony Genato because his focus was on doing the intangibles, stopping the other team’s biggest threat, setting picks, deflecting passes, disrupting set plays and creating situations.

Manulat and Loyzaga were together on the national team that took third place at the 1954 FIBA World Cup in Brazil, captured the gold at the 1954 Asian Games, saw action at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, repeated at the 1958 Asian Games and competed at the 1959 FIBA World Cup in Chile. While they were teammates on the international stage, Manulat and Loyzaga were fierce rivals on the homefront.

Manulat played for UST, Ysmael Steel and 7-Up. Loyzaga suited up for San Beda and YCO. “Dad played defense and Loyzaga was an attacking forward,” said Manulat’s daughter Joanne. “According to Mum, every time Dad would be sent on court, the opposing coach would take Loyzaga off because Dad would always frustrate Loyzaga with his defense and stop him from scoring. They were archrivals on court but friendly off the court. They moved in different social circles so were more acquaintances than friends.”

Because they were both tall and handsome, it didn’t take long before movie producers noticed their potential as film stars. In the 1958 movie “Mr. Basketball” with Cesar Gallardo as director, Manulat and Loyzaga starred with Paquito Diaz, Bob Soler, Chiquito, Edna Luna, Cielito Legaspi and another popular national player Kurt Bachmann.

Manulat was married to Maria Luisa Da Silva whose sister Tessy lives in Spain with her husband, former Philippine national football coach Juan Cutillas. The Manulats had three children and eight grandchildren. Manulat’s sister Rita was married to the late YCO basketball star Francis Wilson. Manulat and Wilson were teammates on the Philippine squad that bagged the gold at the 1958 Asian Games.

Manulat’s father Berting was a Cuban-Spaniard who married Adelaida Seaman from the Larrazabal clan of Leyte and Cebu. Manulat grew up in Cebu and later played basketball for UST where he earned his Mechanical Engineering degree. In 1971, Manulat and his family migrated to Australia. Manulat set up a hardware store in Brisbane but sold it after the floods in 1974. He worked at Queensland Cement and Lime for about 10 years then retired at 60. In his later years, Manulat lived in an apartment where nurses attended to him every day. His basketball medals and trophies were proudly displayed in his apartment alongside photos of family and friends.

“Dad joined a social seniors basketball team in Brisbane and that was the only time I saw him play,” said Joanne. “Loyzaga also moved to Australia but they lived in different cities so they never met up.” Manulat died of a heart attack in the middle of the night at 89 in September last year.

Genato, the lone survivor of the 1954 FIBA World Cup third place team, remembered Manulat fondly. “Mon usually came off the bench and there were times when we played together in the backcourt,” he said. “Mon was a tough defender but could also shoot. We played against each other in the National Open and MICAA but were teammates in the World Cup, Asian Games and Olympics.” Manulat made his mark in Philippine basketball history as a hard-nosed defensive guard who never backed down from anyone.

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