As the curtains fall on the XXXII Olympics Tokyo 2020, we invite everyone to look back and honor the first ever Olympian from Cagayan de Oro City.
Perhaps it would be no surprise to Kagay-anons that like newly minted XXXII Olympics Tokyo 2020 Flyweight Silver Medalist Carlo Paalam, Mariano “Nene” Mercado Velez Jr. also competed in boxing, albeit in the Welterweight division.
Born in 1925 to Mariano Velez, the former vice mayor (and later Military Mayor of Cagayan de Misamis tasked with rebuilding the city after the war ) and Patricia Mercado (the first Female Councilor and later first female Vice Mayor of Cagayan de Misamis), he was the one of five sons who excelled in athletics.
The Velez family was prominent during this time not only because of the status of the parents, but of their sons as well.
Engr. Plutarco Velez was the first mining engineer of Misamis Oriental, a graduate of the Mapua Institute of Technology, and fought as a guerrilla during World War II. A former president of the Rotary Club of Cagayan de Oro, he married Sofia Hizon of Davao City.
Homer Velez was a commerce graduate of Far Eastern University and also fought as a Second Lieutenant with the Guerrillas during World War II. He became a tax investigator of the City Mayor’s Office under Mayor Justiniano R. Borja and later Chief of the Secret Service Division of the Cagayan de Oro Police Department with the rank of Captain. He married Sarah Alagaban of Davao City and was lauded as an “honest and heroic officer” during his necrological services.
Judge Puro M. Velez was a bachelor of arts graduate of Silliman University, and proceeded to take his BS in Jurisprudence and Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Philippines. A member of the Philippine Bar, he was the former legal office of the late Governor Alfonso Dadole and Gov. Pedro N. Roa. He also became the private secretary of the late Misamis Oriental Gov. Concordio C. Diel, and former general manager of the Cagayan de Oro City General Service, former City Prosecutor and RTC Judge of Dumaguete, Gingoog, and Cagayan de Oro Cities. A Freemason, he was also a member of Philconsa; Sigma Rho Fraternity UP College of Law, and Philippine Judges Association. A cowboy and weekend farmer, he married Ligaya Marban of Kinoguitan, Misamis Oriental.
Not the least, Judge Alejandro “Celing” Velez was a bachelor of laws graduate of Manuel Luiz Quezon University; member of the Philippine Bar; former councilor of Cagayan de Oro City for two terms, 1959-1967. a Rotarian; engaged in the practice of law in Cagayan de Oro and Misamis Oriental until he was appointed RTC Judge at Cagayan de Oro City; appointed executive judge; member Philippine Judges Association; and married Ester Gabor, a pharmacist at the J.R. Borja Memorial City Hospital.
However, among the five brothers, it was Nene who was the most athletically gifted and inclined. He started as a member of the Ateneo de Cagayan (now Xavier University) High School Basketball Varsity, and proceeded to Far Eastern University where he was graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
Besides joining the FEU Tamaraws basketball varsity, he also excelled in athletics and became national decathlon champion, and National Amateur Welterweight Boxing Champion in 1948.
He wanted to join the Philippine Basketball Team to the Games of the XIV Olympiad London 1948 at but since it involved being part of a team, he picked boxing instead, and joined the Philippine Boxing Team in the Welterweight Division but lost his first bout in August 7, 1948 to Clifford Blackburn of Canada.
But his family shared that instead of being sad about his abbreviated Olympic career, Nene often told them stories about his Olympic experience, how he met and befriended foreign athletes.
After graduating from FEU, Nene came home to Cagayan de Oro and started his professional career in local government. He married a hometown sweetheart, Linda Lopez with whom he had six children: Majorie, Karen Micelli Velez-Lansang, Mariano II, Mariano III, Christine Velez-Daba, Honey and Hope.
Even when he was already employed as operations manager of the Misamis Oriental Telephone System (MISORTEL) in Cagayan de Oro, Nene did not leave his gloves behind and started the Marvel Boxing Gym where he trained potential boxers.
Named after his moniker “Marvel”, he was also known as “Piston Fists” for his ability to destroy a punching bag.
Nene passed away on 2004 due to liver complications.
All photographs courtesy of Purito “Titus” M. Velez EnP