MANILA, Philippines -- Filipina volleyball star Jaja Santiago is weighing her options after her club team in Japan's V.League, Saitama Ageo Medics, offered to facilitate her naturalization.
Santiago revealed on "Volleyball DNA" over the weekend that Ageo Medics want her to change her citizenship, thus enabling her to play for the club as a local. This will also open more doors for Santiago -- including a possible stint in Japan's national team.
In an interview on CNN Philippines on Tuesday, Santiago gave more details regarding the team's offer to naturalize her.
"Sabi (ng team manager) sa akin, gusto namin na mag-stay ka sa team, longer the better. Kung gusto mo, kung gusto mo talaga na mag-change ng nationality, matutulungan ka namin, matutulungan kita, kasi marami siyang connection sa FIVB," she explained.
"Sabi niya, if ever na magkaroon ka ng opportunity na maglaro for Japan national team, pwede rin kitang tulungan, kung magkakaroon din ako ng opportunity na mag-play sa national team nila. Pero 'yung No. 1 ano niya is kung gusto ko talagang magpalit ng nationality, tutulungan niya ako," she added.
Santiago is a mainstay of the Philippine national team, having anchored their campaign in the Asian Games in 2018. She missed the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, however, as Ageo Medics did not grant her a release.
A former UAAP Most Valuable Player, Santiago is determined to help Philippine volleyball rise to new heights. She has been showcasing her talent in Japan, having helped Ageo Medics to the championship in the Division 1 V.Cup last week.
"May pride pa din naman ako as a Filipino. And gusto ko rin maglaro at tulungan 'yung bansa ko na kung ano 'yung level na meron sila sa Japan, gusto ko siyempre, 'yung bansa natin makamit din 'yung meron sila," she said.
However, there is a part of her that is considering the naturalization offer seriously, as it will take her a step closer towards fulfilling another one of her dreams -- to play in the Olympics.
Philippine volleyball remains a few levels away from the Olympics, but Japan is already a regular at the Summer Games. In the London Olympics in 2012, they won the bronze medal.
"Half of me, bakit hindi? Bakit hindi ko i-grab?" Santiago said of her mindset regarding the offer. "Kasi nga, siyempre, pangarap ko mag-Olympics. Gusto kong maglaro doon."
"And 'yung Japan is nandoon na, nandoon na sila, meron na sila. So hindi siya ganoon kahirap tuparin, kasi meron na nga sila," she said.
The decision will not be Santiago's alone. She said she immediately consulted her family when Ageo Medics made the offer to her.
"Sabi ng family ko, sundin mo kung ano 'yung nararamdaman mo. Kung tingin mo na may pag-asa pa talaga 'yung volleyball community natin, volleyball ano natin dito sa Pilipinas, 'di mag-stay ka," she said.
"Pero kung wala talaga, eh grab the opportunity," Santiago added.
If Santiago does agree to switch nationalities, she assured that her heart will remain with the Philippines even if she winds up playing for a different country.
"Hindi lang naman ikaw 'yung nire-represent mo sa paglalaro mo kung magpapalit ka ng nationality sa Japan eh. Hindi lang naman eh, Pilipino ka pa rin, dala mo pa rin 'yung flag natin," she said.
The former National University star is back in the Philippines after her third season with Ageo Medics. She is set to play with Chery Tiggo in the Premier Volleyball League, which will open its first professional season in the coming months.
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