There’s the world class martial artist who championed taekwondo and represented the country in several international competitions including the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
There’s the popular action star who headlined several action flicks in the late 90s including titles like “Buhawi Jack,” “Matang Agila” and “Haragan.”
And finally, there’s the politician who after two terms of being Makati City Councilor is throwing his hat in a bigger arena: the House of Representatives.
In an interview with AnimoMagazine, Monsour recalled the circumstances that led him to pursue his different career paths.
“When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Bruce Lee but at the same time, I was also being bullied in our school in Bacolod where I grew up. That’s because I could not speak Ilongo and only spoke Spanish and English. It probably didn’t help that I was Tisoy so I would go into fights and I would lose so I guess that’s what drove me to martial arts,” he shared.
The bullying eventually stopped but Monsour’s passion for martial arts continued. As a matter of fact, it never really ceased.
By the time he finished high school, Monsour made sure that he would only spend his college years in De La Salle University where he would eventually finish his Communication Arts in Applied Humanities degree.
“I purposely flunked Ateneo and UP which I doubt I would pass if I really took them seriously. But I wanted to go to La Salle mainly because it was the first private school to have taekwondo and also because all the best fighters were in La Salle. I wanted to see how good I would be if I go up against these guys,” he noted.
Turns out Monsour was more than just merely good. A member of the 1982 Philippine National Taekwondo Team by the age of 18, he eventually went on to become an eight-time National Lightweight champion and competed in several international competitions, winning the gold medal in the 14th and 15th Southeast Asian Games, a bronze medal in the 10th Asian games at the 1985 World Taekwondo Championship in Seoul, Korea and a quarterfinal finish in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He is proud to be the first student of Master Hong, the grandfather of Philippine Taekwondo, to represent the country.
“Taekwondo straightened out my life. I owe my life to the people around me that helped me be who I am with taekwondo,” Monsour said as he further pointed out how the sport helped him weather the storm of his parents’ separation as well as the bad influence barkadas that he hung out with for a while before shifting his focus back to taekwondo.
Because Monsour was also gifted with rugged good looks in addition to his athletic physique, he also kept getting offers to join the movies.
“When I was young, people kept approaching if I want to be in the movies, with some even offering to manage me. I just kept turning it down,” he further recalled.
“The reason I joined the movies is to promote taekwondo to the next generation, expose the sport and the martial arts through my action films so that taekwondo will be a household word. Back in the 80s, those who knew what taekwondo was were only those who read the newspapers. Now everybody knows what taekwondo means.”
Monsour did not just became any ordinary actor. He proved to be a bankable box office star particularly in the mid to late 90s when he headlined a string of blockbuster films. He was so happy with the way his movie career is going that he repeatedly turned down offers to run for public office.
“Back in 1998, I was offered by the late Toro Yabut, a batchmate of mine from La Salle who was then the Vice Mayor of Makati to run as one of his councilors. At that time, I was still single and I was enjoying doing movies so I told him, ‘Thank you for the offer but I’m not interested’ and I thought that would be the end of it.”
It wasn’t. By 2001, it was the turn of fellow actor and La Sallite Edu Manzano to ask him to run again for the City Council. That time, Edu was running as Makati Vice Mayor (and eventually won. Edu is now seeking a seat in the Senate in the next presidential election) and also saw potential in Monsour.
“Taekwondo straightened out my life. I owe my life to the people around me that helped me be who I am with taekwondo,”
“That time, I was already teaching taekwondo and I had my gyms already. I also had my taekwondo uniform business so I was still doing well financially even my movie career was so-so because the industry was now in a slump as a result of piracy and the emergence of indie films. I told Edu who was also a good friend and a former co-star that I wanted to focus my energy teaching taekwondo to the youth to the next generation while I still can, while I’m still young and strong,” he admitted.
Edu would go on to try to talk Monsour into running again in 2004 which he again turned down because he just got married that year and wanted to focus on his family. But again another offer to run came three years later in 2007, this time from another fellow actor in Lito Lapid and his running mate, King Yabut.
“By then, I thought this must be a calling. How come people keep offering me to run? I did not come from a political family, I had no political exposure except through my friends that are in politics. My only relative in government is Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario, who is not really a politician,” he wondered.
“My father-in-law who is very supportive of the idea then said to me, ‘Why don’t you give it a shot? So I prayed on it. I wondered if I can make a difference and identified youth and sports development, peace and order, entertainment, self-defense as areas where I can contribute the most.”
So Monsour finally took the plunge but despite his popularity as an actor and all the honors he brought to the country as an athlete, he ultimately lost even though he was among the leaders in in the initial counting.
“I ran and campaigned hard. I had no idea how Makati politics worked, or politics per se for that matter. I even had to ask my friends from taekwondo, from golf, from high school, college, the Philippine martial arts community for help. Since the person who promised to fund our campaign did not come through, I had to do a fund raising and I was so embarrassed that I had to ask for help that way,” he candidly revealed.
“So I gave it my best but unfortunately I lost. I cried and I cursed but most of all, I decided not to ever run again.”
That was until 2010 when he was invited once again to run, this time by the then Vice Mayor Nestor Mercado who wanted Monsour on his ticket. With a better party machinery, he finally won as Councilor.
By then, he was already teaching martial arts in two gyms, he had his own Monsour line of sports equipment. He was helping his wife managed their properties and even as he continued to travel with the Philippine team, for international competitions, he was also teaching grassroots program, organizing taekwondo tournaments and holding free clinics to less fortunate kids.
“Not that I need to be a councilor but it would be a platform for me to expand my advocacies in the sense that I could do more and this time with funding,” he pointed out.
And Monsour did exactly just that as a member of the City Council. After an initial standoff in 2010 when administration and opposition councilors were not seeing eye to eye on many things, “we decided to put everything aside and work together for the sake of city and the constituents.”
There was one ordinance that I opposed and that was the proposed changing of Ayala Avenue to Metropolitan Avenue. When I first came to Makati as a child, it was already Ayala Avenue so I didn’t see any sense in changing. Fortunately, the mayor and the other councilors agreed so that ordinance was never passed.”
For the most part, however, everything flowed smoothly for Monsour during his first term as he was able to pass his own ordinances mostly on sports, peace and order, and entertainment, without any opposition. By the time he ran for re-election in 2013, he was already part of Team Binay and again won handily.
Monsour’s political odyssey, however, was far from finished. He had already filed his certificate of candidacy for re-election when on December 10, the last day of filing COCs, he was told to “level up” his candidacy as representative of the 1st district of Makati as their “original candidate decided to slid down to councilor.”
Fearing that whoever else is running for the same post will run unopposed and win by default, Monsour made it just in time to file his new COC at the Comelec in Intramuros, Manila.
“I was happy being a councilor until that day when I woke up and my life changed drastically. Now I’m not allowed to go back to Bacolod or Cebu or go to Uzbekistan to join the national team when they’re fighting there for the country. I had to stay here in Makati for five months to to focus on my campaign so that I will win.”
With first and second district representatives Abigail Binay and Monique Lagdameo vacating their congressional seats to run for Mayor and Vice Mayor respectively, Monsour and Luis Campos (Abigail’s husband) are now hoping to succeed and continued their projects even as Monsour has a few ideas of his own.
“Of course, I will continue what our current congresswomen are doing here in Makati including providing for medical assistance, livelihood programs and burial assistance, If they win and Luis and I win, we can even help each other,” he quipped.
“That’s what I want to do, to champion the Filipino athlete.”
As part of his platform, Monsour’s “diving board or take-off point” should he win is a self-defense program.
“Little by little, I’ll be bringing people from all over the world, some of them are already coming here on their own to teach self-defense to our barangay tanods and to whoever wants to learn from them. I also intend to upgrade the sports program of Makati which is already pretty good but I still feel I can make it better.”
As sports remain the cornerstone of Monsour del Rosario’s advocacies, he says his main goal right now as a public servant is “to fight for the Filipino athlete.”
“I know there are people who have tried to pass bills giving compensation to athletes who brought honor to the country with some pension amounting to P5,000 or P10,000 or a big lump sum for their contribution for bringing glory to the country. That’s what I want to do, to champion the Filipino athlete.”
“My heart goes out for them. I know how hard they work and how long it takes them to get good at a certain sport and get to the level where I was when I was young. I was fortunate enough to come from a well-to-do family and did not have to do the sport to keep my family alive. But that’s not the case with all athletes They don’t have the same luck I had. The dedication that they put to excel in their sport is admirable and it’s just fitting that there’s someone in Congress who looks out for their well-being.”
Always prepared for life’s toughest challenges, Monsour always made sure that every career path he took is for a nobler purpose—whether it’s for the promotion of the sport that has drastically changed his life or for championing the causes of fellow athletes who tried to make the most out of less than ideal circumstances.
Whether or not a higher calling still awaits him should he win a congressional seat, only time will tell. Regardless of what happens, the ever competitive animo spirit of Monsour del Rosario should keep him in fighting form.
Article originally published in 2018. Written by Edwin Sallan.