Sinigang and Sad Songs for Losers: A Day with ECHO

Talo na naman tayo, kahit na binuhos nang lahat, talo na naman tayo…

Rivermaya’s anthem for losers, “Olats” played on the speakers of the ECHO Express, a bus customized by Pangasinan Solid North for ECHO, as it left the MPL venue. 

ECHO had just swept Blacklist International and everybody on the team made their way through the crowd and was seated on the personalized bus. 

The ECHO Express

Kawawa naman tayo.

Ganyan talaga,

talo nanaman tayo,

kahit na binuhos nang lahat,

talo na naman tayo…

I had a feeling the song had been played numerous times on the ECHO Express. It has a peppy and spirited melody that contrasts with its desperate lyrics.  

Kahit magdasal kang magdamag,

talo na naman tayo,

talo na naman tayo,

talo na naman tayo,

talo na naman tayo.”

But ECHO won 5 of its 6 matches in the MPL in the past three weeks. Playing “Olats” on the bus is a playful mockery of their victory that night. It speaks volumes about what kind of team they are. One that is humorous, does not take themselves too seriously, and has more than a damn of self-awareness and humility, recognizing that even in their moments of triumphs, elements of luck and circumstance contribute to their success.

Although the spacious bus has over 25 seats, ECHO’s players have claimed specific spaces on the bus that no one should occupy: BennyQt rests at the very back end of the bus, a seat away from the right window. He’s wearing headphones while speaking to his wife on the phone. Also at the back of the bus sits Sanford, left side, perfectly isolated from the world with his noise-cancelling headphones. Jaypee claimed his personal space in the middle section of the left side, hiding underneath his jacket. Sanji likes to sit near the ECHO Express’s entrance.

Inside the ECHO Express

“Sorry, Abo, don’t sit there, that’s Sanji’s favorite seat. The players have their quirks on this bus, hahaha,” Mitch Liwanag, ECHO’s country manager, told us.

After winning against Blacklist, the boys wanted to eat at Subway, so the ECHO Express, to the tune of “Olats,” drove us to SM Jazz Mall. It was 9:18 p.m.

“KarlTzy, papicture!”

A stranger suddenly jumped out of a white car that appeared out of nowhere as KarlTzy alighted the bus. Apparently, they followed ECHO’s bus just to take a picture with the young jungler. 

Within seconds, half a dozen people surrounded him, but Karl was very gracious. He took time to pose with everyone, even as his teammates left him behind. 

As we walked toward the mall’s entrance, we were told that it was already closed. Disappointed, the boys settled for home. “Sa boot camp na lang tayo kumain,” someone said. 

Traditionally, ECHO celebrates victories at the boot camp by eating sinigang and rice. 

Earlier that day, I was able to sample for the first time the famous sinigang by Ate Lisa, their home cook. This is the sinigang that Yawi, KurtTzy, and the rest of the boys told the world about.  

“Abo, kumain ka diyan!” Liwanag told me. 

“No, I’m full!” I said, trying to act shy. 

I saw Sanford eating a bowl of adobo over rice, and then someone passed by with a bowl of sinigang. 

I caved. 

“Ate Lisa, pahingi po ako ng sinigang!” I yelled. 

“Kuha ka lang diyan!” she said.

I took a bowl and helped myself to the pot of ECHO’s pork sinigang. 

It was glorious. 

The pork had been simmering since morning, and its fatty meat had somewhat dissolved into the cloudy soup, lending more of its delicious cholesterol to the broth. I sipped, and the tanginess exploded in my inner cheeks. This is why sinigang was named the greatest soup in the world. 

ECHO’s pork sinigang is glorious.

The players are lucky to enjoy this dish almost every day. 

I finished my bowl. 

“Mitch, do you want sinigang?” I timidly asked (so I could get more too). 

“Ayoko, halos araw-araw iyan ulam namin hahaha,” she said, laughing. 

I decided to preserve the rest of my dignity and come back for sinigang next time. 

ECHO country manager Mitch Liwanag with ALL-STAR’s Abo Limos

ECHO strictly does not allow visitors to come to its boot camp, located in one of the posh villages in the South. Maybe they don’t want people to see that they have not cleaned their pool these days, or that the neighbor’s very prolific mango tree (from which they sometimes pluck fruits with a mango-plucking stick by climbing on the roof) has showered their yard with dead leaves again. 

“Ikaw lang pwede pumunta!” I was told. 

And now I am exposing ECHO and all of its secrets and quirks. Hahaha. 

Two seasons ago, ECHO had a peculiar set of instructions posted on its kitchen wall. It was meant for the staff. When I visited the other day, I noticed ECHO has removed it. It contained instructions for the weekly provisions for the boys. Number 1 was highlighted. 

Walang kumakain ng chicken curry dito. Kapag nagluto ng chicken curry, oorder sa labas yung boys. Yung isa, magpapaluto ng hotdog o itlog,” it read. 

Another one read, “Hindi lahat nagbe-breakfast, so konti lang isaing mo sa umaga. Si ___, gusto kumakain. Ipagluto mo pa rin siya ng hotdog at itlog paggising niya.” 

The list of instructions goes on to fill the sheet of paper. The very detailed instructions struck me as something very carefully drawn according to the unique quirks and needs of ECHO’s roster of 10 players. 

Also in the kitchen area, ECHO has a dedicated fridge just for Red Bulls. 

“Pwede ba ako kumuha?” I asked.

“Wag muna, hindi pa na-replenish yung stock namin! Um, bilang kasi yan para sa boys,” said the staff. True enough, the Red Bulls in the fridge disappeared as the boys took them before leaving for their Match against Blacklist.

We’ve written about Sanji’s Red Bull rituals, but that’s just one of the many food quirks of ECHO’s players and staff. 

ECHO is humorously superstitious when it comes to the food they eat before a match. 

“Swerte yung inorder mo sa Jollibee, panalo tayo,” they would say. 

When they suffered their first loss of the season courtesy of AP BREN, they blamed it on the sopas

“Malas yung sopas ng XXX!”

The sopas was from a popular fast food chain in the Philippines. They went as far as sending a message to the restaurant and naughtily expressing their “disappointment” over the meal. 

It was past 10 p.m. when the ECHO Express reached the boot camp. Dinner was ready.

I saw 15 boxes of Korean fried chicken from Bok, and then there was still the sinigang from the boys’ lunch. Two large pots were filled to the brim with freshly steamed rice. I waited for Yawi, who was also visiting the camp, to finish. He took several scoops of rice before filling his plate with chicken. 

Yawi celebrates with his former teammates at the boot camp after ECHO won against Blacklist International.

Partial to ECHO’s sinigang, I went for the pot and filled my plate with the soft fatty meat and cloudy sour soup. 

In the middle of the meal, Sanford tapped Mitch Liwanag and pointed to his eye. Automatically, Liwanag reached for her purse and gestured for Sanford to look upward. She pulled out a dropper and applied a drop on each of Sanford’s eyes. 

This is the same Sanford who would protest loudly every time the team would ask him and Sanji (aka SanSan Duo) to recreate Dragon Ball’s Fusion technique. “Hindi na ako bata!” Sanford would shout. But at times like this, he still is, and shows affection by allowing Liwanag to put eyedrops on him or fix his makeup on shoot days. 

Liwanag was watching me finish their favorite food when she randomly asked me, “Alam mo ba ang pindang damulag?” 

“Hindi. Ano yon?”
“Tocinong kalabaw. Favorite ko iyon. Ginagawa iyon sa Pampanga.”

“What? Tocino siya pero baby na kalabaw yung meat?”

“Oo. Gusto mo?”

They didn’t have to convince me. 

It’s a delicacy in Pampanga and the reason why I’m going back to ECHO’s boot camp in a week’s time. 

“Sige, dadalhan kita next week!” said Liwanag. 

I cleaned up the bits of rice on my plate. My belly was filled with Ate Lisa’s sinigang and my head was dumbly repeating the lyrics of “Olats.” The players are bonding with Yawi in their room. The tension that lingered among them in Season 12 is now gone. Even BennyQt chose to ride in Yawi’s car instead of ECHO’s bus going home.

As everyone packed up for their day off, so did I and the rest of the staff. 

“Don’t forget my tocino,” I told Liwanag as I hugged her goodbye. 

I played “Olats” on my stereo as I started the car. 

Kahit magdasal kang magdamag, talo na naman tayo, talo na naman tayo, talo na naman tayo, talo na naman tayo.”

I need to get this out of my system fast. 

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