President Rodrigo Duterte wasn’t there Thurday night during the send off ceremonies for members of the national delegation who will carry the country’s colors in the 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games set August 19 to 30 at the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
But this did not diminish the spirit and enthusiasm of the Filipino athletes in their quest to do better than the sixth place overall finish their predecessors fashioned out two years ago.
The ceremony was simple but meaningful and in the absence of the Chief Executive, Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco and Philippine Sports Commission chair William “Butch” Ramirez did the honor of giving the blessing to what remained of the original 498-athlete strong contingent.
Both the country’s highest sports leaders reminded the athletes of the Olympic Creed that says, “The most important thing in the Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
“Go to Kuala Lumpur to maintain the respect our neighbors accorded us during the previous staging of the Games. Go there to once more emphasize to our neighbors what kind of people Filipinos are,” Cojuangco charged the athletes.
“Show your rivals that despite the problems ours government is confronting like crimes, corruption and drug, we still, as before, can rise above them, a character we have proven we possess time and time again,” the POC top man said.
“Our enemies know what your problems are, what you lack in your training, which your counterparts in the past experienced, but like before, show them the fighting spirit that we Filipinos have in excess,” he stressed.
Cojuangco then relayed an incident involving a Filipino athlete who confessed to him that during the final run of his event, his rival talked him into losing the race with the promise to share with him half of his rival’s incentives.
“Apparently, said athlete knew how much incentives or athletes were receiving. To cut the story short, our athlete won and after the final run, an official of his rival’s delegation approached me and congratulated me for what the Filipino athlete did,” Cojuangco adding the incident happened when he country didn’t have the athletes’ and coaches incentives law, narrated.
“This is the Filipino character that want you to show when you compete. The respect we are known to our neighbors,” he said.
Ramirez, for his part, extolled members of the national contingent to emulate the feats of the Filipino sport heroes, particularly winner of Olympic medals like silver medallists Anthony Villanueva and Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco in boxing and lately weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.
“I have been conducting research on our sport heroes and found our very rich tradition not only in the Olympic Games but in other international competitions as well,” Ramirez told his audience with pride in his voice.
“We have been competing in the Olympics for 93 years since 1924 and to my amazement, napakarami na pala nating mga bayani na dapat nating tularan sa paglahok sa international competition like the SEA Games,” Ramirez recalled.
“There are, of course, our boxing heroes like Manny Pacquiao and Flash Elorde. And Paeng Nepomuceno (of bowling) who is still with us tonight,” he said.
Also in attendance in Thursday night’s affairs were PSC commissioners Ramon Fernandez, Charles Maxey and Conrad Agustin, Chef de Mission and gymnastics president Cynthia Carrion, SEA Games Task Force chair Tom Carrasco of triathlon association, International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski and heads of the different national sports associations.
Carrion reiterated her projection of 50 gold medals for the delegation to succeed in its target of at least fifth place finish, a mere rank higher than sixth in Singapore in 2015 where the Philippines could only brought home measly 29 gold medals.
Ms. Carrion appealed to the athletes to compete with passion in order to attain that goal.
No one, even the most optimistic official is expecting a higher than a fourth place wind up though.