MANILA, Philippines -- Yuka Saso may no longer represent the Philippines but she will not lose her status as the country's sports hero, says the secretary-general of the national golf federation.
Saso last week announced that she has chosen her Japanese citizenship, in accordance with a Japanese law that requires those with dual citizenship to choose before their 22nd birthday.
"We're sad that she has to go through something this difficult," said Bones Floro, secretary-general of the National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP), of Saso's decision during an appearance on "Power and Play."
"We're also sad that we won't see our flag next to her name anymore in the future. Talagang malaking bagay sa ating mga Pilipino 'yan," he added. "But it's her career, so kailangan din niyang isipin din 'yun, dahil professional athlete siya."
In a statement on Thursday, Saso had expressed her gratitude to her supporters both in the Philippines and Japan, and stressed that she will always treasure her Filipino heritage despite the choice that she made.
Saso was born to a Filipino mother and a Japanese father in Bulacan, and represented the Philippines as an amateur. In the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, she won both individual and team gold together with Bianca Pagdanganan and LK Go.
In June, she became the first Filipino to win a major golf tournament when she ruled the U.S. Women's Open, and represented the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics.
Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino, president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), said Saso remains a Filipino "by heart."
"Hindi nga lang niya ma-represent 'yung Philippines after this decision niya," said Tolentino.
Tolentino admitted that he and Floro had anticipated this scenario, knowing Saso's Japanese heritage. Floro also revealed that he and Tolentino tried to convince Saso to choose her Filipino citizenship when they were with her in the Tokyo Olympics.
"But siyempre at that time, it was still, well, she kinda knew already, but definitely her father was already decided," Floro explained. "But siyempre, kami ni Cong. Bambol, we had to tried our best, so we did."
"But (it's a) business decision 'yan, and family decision," he added. "So obviously, we knew it was coming, at some point. Hindi lang natin nakita na it will be sooner than later."
Floro nonetheless believes that Saso's decision will have no impact on how she is perceived by Filipinos, particularly the young golfers who have grown to idolize her after her achievements in the international stage.
"Si Yuka, she's a golfing hero eh, 'di ba. So we have a lot of our younger generation who look up to her. But again, because of how she feels, how she carries herself, and largely by her statement also, that she will always be Filipina and Japanese at the same time, tingin ko as a golfing hero of the Philippines, hindi naman mawawala 'yan," said Floro.
"Our kids, our grandkids will still look up to her as a Filipina golfing hero," he added.
Both Floro and Tolentino acknowledge that Saso will have more opportunities after choosing her Japanese citizenship, with the POC president pointing out that a Japanese passport is "more powerful" than a Philippine one.
"Aside from that, sponsorships. Definitely, babaha ng big sponsor from Japan," he added.
Still, Floro is optimistic that Saso's case won't set a precedent for Filipino athletes.
"It's an isolated case. 'Cause right now, the POC programs, they work. The PSC support, they work. So we're not hemorrhaging athletes eh. We're not losing athletes. This is an isolated case lang talaga," he stressed.