Jaja Santiago was just on her second day of quarantine at Vivere in Alabang when I was able to communicate with her and discussed volleyball.
After all, few will argue with me if I say that presently, she is the best local female volleyball player of the country and her return here recently from Japan after helping her team Ageo Medics win the tough Japan Volleyball Cup as an imported player will bear out my belief.
Fact is, it was reported that she was so impressive in her stint there that she was not just deluged with offers from other clubs, but also Japanese citizenship, which will mean playing for Japan and not for the Philippine team.
Santiago already confirmed she will sign up anew with her old ballclub, but more importantly, she will be suiting up for the Philippine national squad for the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam later this year.
This was a part of her agreement with Ageo Medics—that she will be given a two-week window to play for the Philippines.
It’s welcome news indeed as she and sister Dindin Manabat were sorely missed in the 2019 SEAG, which the Philippines hosted. Jaja was not able to join the team because of bureaucracy, if not politics in the then National Sports Association for volleyball, the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, while Dindin failed to make it because of injury. The Philippines finished out of the medal standing in the games.
I have a personal interest in women’s volleyball, to the point that I would watch live the Philippine Superliga starting in 2015, simply because Foton then had my old friend Alvin Lu as team manager, who always invited me to the games.
But it was only when Alvin was able to sign up Jaja that the ballclub, owned by sports patron Rommel Sytin, won two championships with import Lindsay Stalzer.
In 2019, I was given the opportunity by Foton for one conference to be a team-building mentor for the team. I even brought them to Mt. Banahaw in Quezon for an adventure team-bonding experience described by Dindin as the best she had experienced. Thank you.
I got to know the sisters more closely, and believe me, there is no sibling rivalry between these two. Fact is, they push each other to be the best each one could be.
I saw and admired their passion, the determination to get even better in their chosen sport, but Dindin admits that right now, Jaja is the better all-around player.
Despite her stature as the Philippines’ best, Jaja said her present team Cherry Tiggo, will not find it an easy task to win the championship, but they will definitely exert all efforts to reach the finals, this time in the Premier Volleyball League after PSL teams either left the league or took a leave of absence.
And for Jaja, she welcomed this development in Philippine volleyball, admitting that most players wished that there is only one league for women’s volleyball, with all the best players competing against one another. Forming a national team is easier, too.
Going back to her stint in Japan, she said it was a tough road to the championship with a new coach, a new system and new teammates, too. But it was there that she continued to improve her game, particularly on defense, specifically in blocking, saying if she could not contribute on offense, she definitely will on defense.
Of course, I would not expect it to happen that Jaja will not score here.
She will, even more than before and right now, at 25 years old, she is still peaking and that is why I consider her right now to be the country’s best all-around player, bar none.
And do not expect her to change teams locally. She will stay with Cherry Tiggo, formerly Foton. You see, loyalty is one of her personal values in life.
Her future can only be better.
That is the bottom line.