BOCAUE, Bulacan: Despite criticisms that tormented the first few days of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, frustrations turned into a sense of Filipino pride after the Philippines, as host, showcased a spectacular opening ceremony highlighted by cultural performances and pyrotechnics that gave the region enduring aspects of the Philippines’ traditional and contemporary culture.
The biggest sports event in Asia this year, thousands of local and international guests, including some of the region’s royal families and leaders, witnessed the celebration at the Philippine Arena here that reflected the high energy, physical dexterity and competitive spirit of Filipinos.
Among the VIPs who experienced the one-of-a-kind extravaganza was Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah who arrived at the venue with President Rodrigo Duterte.
His children Princess Azemah and Prince Abdul Mateen are competing in the SEA Games as part of the kingdom’s polo team.
This is the first time that the opening ceremony of the premier sports competition was held in an indoor stadium as it is normally done in an athletics stadium, same as for the Olympic Games or the Asian Games.
It is also the fourth time for the Philippines to host the event. The first was in 1981 — four years after the country joined the SEA Games–then called the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games.
The country also hosted the Games in 1991 and 2005.
During the program that started around 7 p.m. and lasted for an hour and a half, the audience was evidently astonished when they saw the performance stage, which was inspired by the rice terraces of Banaue, Ifugao, and lighted up by “bamboo forest” LED panels
As what Floy Quintos, playwritght, theater director and 2019 SEA Games opening ceremony creative director, mentioned in his Facebook post the night before the ceremony, it was, “just good old Pinoy energy, talent and joy. The very things we return to. The very qualities that enable us to survive.”
And indeed, the production kept its promise to present aspects of Philippine culture showcasing visual arts while motifs from traditional textiles, contemporary street art and the pre-Hispanic script “baybayin” served as visual content that links each segment of the program.
Some of the best voices of the land were heard, with Lani Misalucha starting the show by singing acapella the Philippine national anthem.
Donning colorful costumes, a series of dances highlighted the traditional cultures of the Philippine archipelago with Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and at least 12 different schools and colleges in Metro Manila contributing their skills.
Filipinos wowed the crowd at the Philippine Arena on Saturday, November 30, with their stunning and world-class performance in the opening of the 30th Southeast Asian Games. Featured were dances showing the culture of ethnic tribes in the Philippines. Filipino singers like Asia’s Nightingale Lani Misalucha, KZ Tandingan, Christian Bautista, Apl.de.Ap, Ana Fegi, Aicelle Santos, and Robert Seña serenaded the local and foreign crowd. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte officially opened the games. The Southeast Asian Games will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2019. PHOTOS BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE and J. GERARD SEGUIA
These dances include the “ginum” of the Bagobo representing the lumad (indigenous people) of Mindanao; the “pattong” dance of the Kalinga tribe of Northern Luzon; arnis, a homage to the ancient art of self-defense; the “sayaw sa kasingkil” of the Maranao; jota dance from the Spanish era; and hip-hop.
All 11 participating countries were each led by a Filipina beauty queen as muse.
Team Brunei Darussalam was accompanied by Miss Intercontinental 2018 Karen Gallman; Cambodia, Miss Multinational 2018 Sophia Senoron; Indonesia, Miss World 2013 Megan Young; Laos, Miss Eco International 2018 Cynthia Thomalia; Malaysia, Miss International 2006 Lara Quigaman; Myanmar, Miss Earth 2017 Karen Ibasco; Singapore, Miss Earth 2014 Jamie Herrel; Thailand, Miss Earth 2015 Angelia Ong; East Timor, Miss Tourism 2017 Jannie Alipo-on; and Vietnam, Miss Asia Pacific International 2018 Sharifa Akeel.
Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach for the Philippines ended the parade on a high note.
Loud cheers filled the arena as the athletes walked around the stage.
President Duterte, and even Sen. Roland dela Rosa, sang their hearts out with the audience to the tune of “Manila” by 1970s band Hotdog.
The country’s athletes proudly wore “reinvented” barong tagalog by top fashion designer Francis Libiran during the parade.
Suitably, the entrance of each competing countries was also made more special by the use of traditional bamboo arches or singkaban.
These cleverly crafted bamboo pieces are a common sight that welcome visitors to town fiestas, also during Santacruzan.
Top Filipino singer Robert Seña sang the welcome song for the foreign guests, the English version of “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika.”
In his speech, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano thanked the people behind the preparations for the 30th SEA Games, commended the athletes for their passion and pointed to the diversity of the Southeast Asia.
“We would like to express our gratitude, first and foremost, to the person who gave the go-signal for the Philippines to host the 30th SEA Games. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” he said.
Abraham Tolentino, president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, also welcomed the foreign delegates.
President Duterte then declared the 30th Southeast Asian Games open.
Legends in Philippines sports — sprinter Lydia de Vega, swimmers Eric Buhain and Akiko Thompson, basketball star Alvin Patrimonio, bowler Bong Coo and billiards player Efren “Bata” Reyes were tasked to carry the Southeast Asian Games Federation flag.
Their appearance was met by loud cheers and applause from the enthusiastic crowd.
Oaths of athletes and judges were then read.
The program continued on with a duet of Aicelle Santos and Christian Bautista (“Minamahal Kita”); up-and-coming singer Iñigo Pascual, Elmo Magalona and KZ Tandingan in a hip-hop medley of “Mga Kababayan Ko;” “Man from Manila;” and “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy,” respectively.
A hit with the audience was the solo number of Filipino superstar, Apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas, who sang his classic worldwide hit song “Bebot.”
During the finale, the symbolic lighting of the SEA Games cauldron was beamed simultaneously live into the Philippine Arena from the New Clark City track and field stadium in Tarlac led by torch-bearers, world boxing champion Nesthey Petecio and eight-division world boxing champion Sen. Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao.
It featured a song number from Anna Fegi, Jed Maddela, the TNT Boys and the rest of the top singers who performed in a rousing finale of the SEA Games 2019 theme song “We Win As One” popularized by Lea Salonga — who, unfortunately, wasn’t able to join the ceremony because of her previous commitment appearing for the Singapore leg of musical “Sweeny Todd” — and specially composed by opening ceremony’s creative director Quintos and melody by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab.
The ceremony ended with a grand display of fireworks.
With 530 events held in six provinces and mega cities, the 2019 SEA Games is expected to be the largest in the biennial conclave’s history. It will feature 10 new events, including esports, skateboarding and kurash.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has urged all Filipinos to help and cooperate for a successful hosting, as he pointed out that a probe of the alleged hosting snafus must happen after the games.
The senator, who heads the Senate sports committee, said the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee is working double time to fix any mishaps in the country’s hosting and in ensuring that no major glitches occur for the entire duration of the sports showcase.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also urged the public to show discipline during the 30th SEA Games by following security procedures and keeping the sports venues clean.
The Philippine National Police on November 25 placed Metro Manila, Ilocos Region, Central Luzon and Southern Luzon under full alert status until December 14.
PNP-Highway Patrol Group has fielded 101 motorcyles and 29 mobile patrol units with 175 personnel for the convoy security of delegetes.
Overall, over 27,000 PNP and other forces would secure the 44 venues and more than 100 hotels in Metro Manila, New Clark City, Metro Manila, Laguna, Tagaytay, Subic and Bulacan.
Ahead of the opening ceremony, President Duterte met with Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in Malacanang, where they held a closed-door meeting.
Bolkiah was accompanied by his son, Prince Abdul Mateen, who is competing in the SEA Games as part of the oil-rich kingdom’s polo team.
He is expected to show support for his country’s delegation participating in the regional sports tournament during his visit to the country.
Bolkiah is set to leave Manila on December 1.
WITH REPORTS FROM CATHERINE S. VALENTE, JAVIER JOE ISMAEL AND DARWIN PESCO