If the Philippines’ runner up finish in the 23rd edition of the Southeast Games in 1991 was a “miracle,” its overall championship triumph in 2005 was a “blessing.”
Thus wrote one veteran sports journalist following the Filipino athletes, 742 of them, humbled the opposition in spectacular fashion, winning 113 gold medals, 84 silver and 94 bronze medals to emerge as the new kingpins of sports in the 11-nation aggrupation.
Never mind the hitches and glitches that punctuated the country’s preparations and even the actual competitions. The most important is the Filipino athletes had finally shaken their reputation as losers to then their more stronger and powerful counterparts from perennial winners Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, and even new member Timor Este.
The SEA Games of 2005 erased that stigma that of Philippines as the sick man of Southeast Asia.
For as in its first two hosting of the biennial event in 1981 and 1991 even the bigger ones before that like then Thrilla In Manila, the World Basketball Championship and the World Cup of Golf, to mention a few, the Filipinos, again taught tier neighbors how to bounce back from one adversity to another to stage a gigantic event of this magnitude and come out with flying colors.
Cheered on and egged on by hundreds of thousands of their compatriots in a rare display of unity in all playing fields at the dilapidated Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila and elsewhere in the Big City, Los Banos in Laguna and Cebu and Bacolod Cities in the South, the hosts dominated throughout the nine-day conclave, deciding the final outcome after only three days of play.
From the time long jumper Maristella Torres ruled her event in the opening on November 6 and divers Sheila Mae Perez and Cecil Dominio, dancing partners Michael Mendoza and Belinda Agora and Rico Rosina and Filomena Salvador and pool artist Ronaldo Alcano joining her in the victory podium, there was no stopping the hosts claiming win after wins to set the tone how the Games would end.
The Filipino men and women hopefuls continued the onslaught with an unprecedented 20 more gold medals in the pivotal Day 2 and 16 in Day 3 as the host country virtually decided who the overall champions will be, while reducing the remaining days of battle to merely who would emerge the second best between Thailand and Vietnam.
Perez, swimmer Miguel Molina, rower Benjamin Tolentino Jr. and billiards ace Alex Pagulayan came out the winningest local campaigners with three gold-medal production each.
Wushu had more gold-medal winnings among national sports associations with11, athletics nine, aquatics nine, boxing eight, billiards and snooker 8, taekwondo six, traditional boat race six, fencing five, wrestling five, bowling four, judo four, archery three,
Arnis, karatedo, muay, rowing, shooting and tennis (3 each), cycling, bodybuilding, dance spots, golf, gymnastics and softball (2 each), lawn balls, baseball, equestrian, and pencak silat (1 each).
Besides the athletes and their countrymen, to who else will the honor of victory be attributed to?
To the national government through President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who like her fellow Lady Chief of State, the late Cory Aquino, showed she had balls by lending her all-out financial support to the hosting despite prodding from her men to the contrary owing to the economic hardship facing the country then.
To her husband, Mike Arroyo, whose foundation bearing his name, revived the ‘Godfather’ scheme of sponsorship that netted P160 million, P100 million of which coming from San Miguel Corporation, that enabled the 742-strong contingent the luxury of an extensive training here and abroad, thus, providing them he needed weapon to engage all-comers to a toe-to-toe war.
To the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Philsoc) under its head, Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Philippine Sports Commission chaired by William ‘Butch” Ramirez and many, many faceless volunteers that saw to it that the Games will be a resounding success.
President GMA aptly spelled the significance of the Philippines’ overall championship victory in the 23rd SEA Games in 2005 by saying: “The Philippines’ SEA Games victory elevates our pride and excellence as a people.”
“The fitting memento of the austere yet amazing display of national pride and sportsmanship on the games, which buoyed the hopes of our people and won the day for the friendship and solidarity among all the ASEAN member countries.”
The Philippines, for the fourth time was again given a chance to showcase the world-renowned reputation of playing host to the event of this magnitude when the SEA Games Federation offered the country the hosting of the 2019 Games but President Duterte’s men rejected it.
An appeal for reconsideration though is already on his desk waiting for his decision.