SAN JUAN CITY COUNCILOR JAMES YAP
The name James Yap is synonymous with Philippine basketball. Yap is a part of the Philippine Basketball Association’s (PBA) 40 Greatest Players list, a twotime league Most Valuable Player (MVP), 16-time All Star, seven-time champion, four-time Finals MVP, and member of the 10,000 Point Club, to name a few of his achievements.
Through the years, Yap has been given several nicknames. Before joining the PBA, he was called “Boy Thunder” alongside his University of the East (UE) Red Warriors teammate and now fellow councilor, Paul Artadi, who was known as “Kid Lightning.” Their duo was the stuff of legends at the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).
At the professional level, Yap became the Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs’ (now Magnolia Hotshots) go-to player for those crucial, last-minute plays going for either a layup or a threepointer after receiving the ball off a quick pass. This earned him the nickname “Big Game James.”
Another is “A Man with a Million Moves,” which Yap credits to his large palms giving him excellent ball-handling skills. This gave him the ability to easily move the ball in any direction, surprising sports commentators and analysts.
But Yap never thought he would gain another title, one that has a direct impact on the lives of his fellow Filipinos, particularly in the City of San Juan: councilor.
RECEIVING AN ASSIST
In basketball, an assist is a pass that leads to a basket.
Yap never planned to become a public servant, but his surroundings and experiences led to other things for him. “I was just focused on my basketball career, and to inspire as many kids to invest in and love the sport,” he shares with LEAGUE.
The 41-year-old councilor knows the positive impact of sports on the youth because competitive street basketball played a major role in his childhood. “I started playing basketball when I was still a child, just like the children today who play in improvised courts on the streets, with iced water at stake. I used to play against older players,” Yap says.
Because of hard work and determination, he soon played on polished hardcourts. Instead of iced water, Yap later on played for MVP titles and championship medals. Yap won his first MVP award with his high school, Iloilo Central Commercial High School (now Hua Siong College of Iloilo) before becoming UAAP Season MVP with the Red Warriors in 2003. Together with the national team, he secured gold for the Philippines in the 2003 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, bronze in the 2007 William Jones Cup, and another gold in the 2009 Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) Championship.
I am still a rookie, but I aim to be great in the end.
As Yap’s professional basketball career—starting from his being selected second overall by Purefoods in 2004—became as legendary as his amateur and national team careers, he became a household name, alongside other sports greats.
But in 2019, Yap decided to take on the role of a rookie in a completely different field after receiving an invitation from San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora to run for councilor. He was willing to start from the bottom again if it meant he could better serve his fellow citizens.
“As someone new to this field, I think I would relate this to how I played basketball at first. I could say I’m still a rookie, but I aim to be great in the end. I’m a keen observer and I take note of every need of my constituents. I am a leader who listens and acts [on their needs],” says Yap, describing his brand of leadership.
“Si Mayor Francis Zamora ang nagbigay ng sapatos sa akin noong walang-wala ako at hanggang ngayon, hindi ko ‘yun nakakalimutan. Sinundan ko ‘yung yapak nya bilang public servant. Ninais ko ring maging kamay sa mga walang-wala kasi minsan rin akong naging ganon, at panahon na para ako naman ‘yung mag-give back (Mayor Francis Zamora was the one who gave me shoes when I had nothing to my name, something I have not forgotten ever since. I followed his footsteps as a public servant. I also wanted to be of help to those who have nothing because I was once like them, and it’s time for me to give back), Yap reveals.
The home court is where the host team plays its “home” games.
San Juan City may not be Yap’s birthplace, but for the Escalante City, Negros Occidental native, it sure has become his home. That the San Juañenos have accepted him as their own became clear during the campaign period.
“I’m in awe and grateful for having a lot of people supporting and believing in me. They were literally behind me in every house that we campaigned in. They never left me and stayed with me until the end,” Yap shares.
Many of Yap’s most ardent supporters during the campaign have remained by his side, helping him craft projects. Needless to say, the people’s needs are taken into close consideration in his six priority programs, most of which lean heavily toward sports.
The James Yap Clinic Membership Program registers all San Juan-based athletes for the James Yap Clinic Card, which contains their exercise schedules and other training-related details. It also promises sports clinics, sports physicals, and online coaching for athletes to achieve their full potential in sports under the program Pagtuturo at Pag-eensayo sa mga Atletang San Juaneño (Teaching and Training the San Juan Athletes).
Under the proposed Buwanang Ayuda para sa mga Atletang Juaneño (Monthly Aid for San Juan Athletes) program, studentathletes are to receive a monthly stipend to sustain their training, provided they maintain good academic standing. It also serves as a reminder that they are students first before athletes as they represent San Juan in tournaments and sporting events nationwide.
Aside from allowances, student-athletes will also receive cash incentives, trophies, and medals. In the Taunang Pagkilala at Pagpaparangal sa mga Namumukod-tangi at Huwarang Estudyante-Atletang Juaneño (Yearly Recognition and Awarding of the Outstanding and Exemplary Student-Athletes of San Juan), athletes are recognized for their hard work, excellence in, and dedication to athletics as well as academics.
Yap also believes that physical fitness is for everyone. Under the Inklusibong Juaneño: Indayog para sa mga Nanay, Tatay, Lola, Lolo, at Kabataang Juaneño” (Inclusive San Juan: Mothers, Fathers, Grandmothers, Grandmothers, and the Youth of San Juan Swaying to the Beat) program, all citizens of the city are enticed to join faceto-face or online Zumba, aerobics, and yoga sessions. San Juan also embraces online electronic sports (e-sports) competitions. This program was conceived to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the city, held alongside traditional sports which Yap says helps resolve one of San Juan’s biggest problems.
“This has been a concern from way back—and not only in the city—the problem of vices and drugs, especially with the youth. So as an athlete myself, I think it’s best for the youth to channel their time and resources into something meaningful, [like playing] basketball, volleyball, chess, or sepak takraw. This helps them personally and at the same time, they can represent San Juan in competitions.”
“With [sports], we are addressing several problems all at once,” Yap adds, promising to keep doing his best to ensure that everyone in their home court wins.
This is the timing device that displays 24 seconds, which is the amount of time a team possessing the basketball must attempt a field goal. For Yap, every second counts. “Every decision, ordinance, and resolution I make, we make in the council—there’s life at stake. So dapat careful at plantsado ang paggawa ng mga polisiya kasi may buhay ng tao na maapektuhan. So natutunan ko rin dito na maging mapanuri at araling mabuti ang bawat proyekto o programang isinusulong. (Policies must be crafted with care because people’s lives will be affected. I have learned to be meticulous and to study all the projects and programs before I push for them.) We make sure that each would benefit our constituents in the best way possible,” he says about his learnings as a first-time public servant.
“I have learned that in politics, you should be understanding, you should know how to put yourself in other people’s shoes. Iyon lagi ang isinasabuhay ko (That’s what I always practice); my moral compass to continue being a good leader, Yap adds.
Yap cites two sets of role models who inspired him to be the leader he is today: his parents and basketball coaches. His parents were his and his siblings’ North Star. “[Inspirasyon sa akin] kung paanong ginabayan nila ako at mga kapatid ko lalo pa noong kapos pa sa buhay. Sa tulong nila, naitawid ang pamilya sa tamang direksyon (I am inspired by how they guided me and my siblings, especially when we had nothing in life. With their help, the family was steered in the right direction),” he says.
Meanwhile, the second set helped him develop not only the essential skills a basketball player needs, but also essential values which he is currently practicing in public office. “They taught me the power of camaraderie, sportsmanship, and discipline. The lessons they taught me, served me well not just in basketball; they are now my moral compass as councilor of San Juan,” Yap shares.
This is an additional five-minute period allotted to determine the winner after the game ends in a tie in regulation.
Known for sending games into overtime with clutch plays, Yap isn’t thinking about going past the fourth quarter. He is not looking forward to running for a higher position and even deferred playing in the 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup to focus on his duties and responsibilities as councilor.
“Naka-focus ako sa mga gampanin ko bilang konsehal ng San Juan at pagtugon sa mga pangangailangan ng bawat (I’m focused on my duties as councilor of San Juan and attend to the needs of every) San Juañeno,” says Yap.
Yap knows he is not alone in San Juan. And being the man everyone looks forward to playing with on the court—a team player—he does not hesitate to seek help from other people, too. “It is my people, my staff, who patiently work and support me in my causes. Their being active pushes me to be even more conscientious of my role in the city. They are my inspiration every day when I wake up. My constituents always help me to do better for the City of San Juan.”
Even though Yap admits that the city has limited resources, this does not hinder him from serving his constituents to the best of his abilities. In fact, he’s even enjoying what he is doing for the people and responding to their needs by prioritizing and focusing on uplifting San Juan.
“What I love about being a public servant is that people entrusted me with their lives; their actual needs and concerns. However, of course, with limited resources available, we need to assess what needs to be attended to immediately. We put high priority on those that are most pressing and deal with the rest later on. It is difficult but that is the most efficient way to address the needs of our constituents, given the situation.”
A little over a year into his term, Yap has proven that just as he made a name in basketball, he could also excel in the field of public service. Like training for any basketball tournament, Yap is working on being San Juan’s MVP—Most Valuable Politician.