Tita Cory and the ‘Miracle of 91’

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Does this country need a chief executive in the mould of the late President Cory Aquino, who defied tremendous odds in leading the Philippines’ successful hosting of the 16th edition of the Southeast Asian Games 26 years ago?

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Have we as a people lost our world-renowned hospitality and capacity to rise from one adversity after another and still succeed in staging an international event of this magnitude with flying colors?

These questions cropped up following the government’s seemingly ill-advised backing off from hosting the 30th staging of the biennial conclave two years from now citing the problem of terrorism and atrocities brought about by the current situation in Mindanao.

The decision to beg off brought to mind an almost similar situation in 1991 when suggestions to cancel or transfer the holding of the Games scheduled in Manila confronted the government then headed by Tita Cory. The only difference was that the effect then was nationwide.

A killer quake hit most part of Luzon July of 1990. Mt. Pinatubo erupted in June of 1991 and flash floods inundated Leyte to months before the Games were to commence. It looked like the Games were, indeed, doomed.

But no. Infrastructure requirements, which as late as two weeks before remained unfinished, were completed. Competition equipment arrived on the eve of the opening ceremonies.

As in 1981 when the country first played host the Games, The Philippines met the deadlines in scrambling fashion, dressed up their premier city and the Filipinos flashed the smile that made them one of the most loved people in the world.

Tita Cory showed she’s made up of tougher stuff. Displaying an immense national courage the President’s men lacked, she strongly insisted on honoring the commitment to the then eight-nation aggrupation.

The Manila Southeast Asian Games of 1991, which up to the present time has been aptly known the “Miracle of 91,” went on and when it was over, the Philippines emerged as the biggest winner.

The Filipino athletes won 91 gold medals, one shy of the Indonesians’ 92 for second overall, the country’s finest showing since 1977 surpassed by their 2005 overall champion counterparts, but who cares? Being able to stage the Games on schedule was, in itself, a “miracle.”

Amidst the calamities and political cataclysms which the country suffered then, the 1991 SEA Games showed the Filipinos resiliency to rise from the grave.

Fear that member countries would be hesitant to brave the inconveniencies and discomforts brought about by those calamities were erased by the National Olympic Committees of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei and Laos themselves by sending a record 3,700 of their best athletes to the 13-day sportsfest.

Tita Cory herself silenced those opposing to pursue hosting the meet by saying: “There are those who say that sports competitions are like battles, extensions of the struggle for nationalism. Each competition must be fought as one fights a war.”

“But if we trace the roots of these competitions to ancient times, we find that even the fiercest battles between Athens and Rome were suspended when the Olympics began. Differences were set aside,” she stressed.

Then Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Sering, for his part, said: “Criticisms have been hurled at hosting these Games considering the natural calamities and disasters our country has suffered. Little did these critics realize, however, that a greater calamity can befall our country or the nations in this region, or the world, if we neglect and abandon our youths who, through sports, we hope to develop into better citizens of their respective countries.”

“The celebration of the SEA Games will have benefits far outweighing the cost to host it,” the late POC head said.

How the duo would have probably wished the present day sports leaders were listening when they uttered those words of wisdom.

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