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Palace gives organizers a pat on the back

Malacañang on Sunday congratulated the organizers behind the opening ceremonies of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, saying they have set the bar high for prospective hosts of international sporting events.

Athletes and officials, among them PSC Chairman Butch Ramirez, POC President and Tagaytay Rep. Bambol Tolentino, Senators Francis Tolentino and Migz Zubiri and Rep. Mikee Romero during the opening ceremony of the SEA Games Sunday at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the opening ceremony Saturday night at the Philippine Arena “was a sight to behold,” noting that it was the first time the rites were held indoors.

“The Office of the President congratulates the organizers, performers, volunteers, and everyone behind yesterday night’s spectacular, for a job exceedingly well done,” Panelo said.

“Once again, the Filipino nation rose to the challenge and exhibited before the world the cultural genius of the Filipino and the best of Filipino talent giving world-class performances of our singers and dancers with impressive stage design and production, including the cauldron lighting ceremony, as well as the mesmerizing fireworks display,” Panelo said.

“We felt the Filipino pride that exuded and reverberated inside the biggest coliseum as our countrymen cheered the entry to the stage of the Philippine delegation, as well as the Filipino sports icons and legends who graced the event,” he added.

Champion athletes took center stage as they carried the SEA Games Federation flag to the delight of the crowd.

READ: Spectacular show

Seven-time SEA Games track gold medalist Lydia de Vega led the crew that included 15-time SEA Games gold medalist swimmer Eric Buhain, four-time bowling world champion Bong Coo, and PBA legend Alvin Patrimonio.

Two-time SEA Games boxing gold medalist and Olympic silver medalist Onyok Velasco, six-time bowling world champion Paeng Nepomuceno, and seven-time SEA Games gold medalist swimmer Akiko Thomson also carried the SEA Games Federation flag.

Four-time eight-ball world champion Efren “Bata” Reyes drew the loudest applause among them when his name was introduced.

Panelo said the presence of Filipino sports icons gave inspiration to all regional athletes.

“The Palace hopes that this event extraordinaire sets the tone for the handling of the Games until our foreign guests leave the country, bringing with them beautiful memories forever etched in their hearts,” the official said.

While President Rodrigo Duterte joined thousands of spectators in dancing to the gleeful Pinoy classic “Manila” during the opening of the 30th Southeast Asian Games, his daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio criticized the choice of song, saying it was not inclusive.

In an Instagram post Sunday morning, Duterte-Carpio said: “We should be inclusive when we want to encourage our countrymen to cheer.”

“Yes, nega ako, bakit (I’m being negative, why)? I am a Filipino but I don’t have one drop of Tagalog blood in me,” she said.

The song “Manila,” a 1976 hit of the local band Hotdog, was played as Filipino athletes were on stage during the opening rites of the games held at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan Saturday night.

The President got up to his feet, grooved, and clapped his hands while the music played.

The song is about a man who has spent time overseas and is longing to return home to the country’s capital, Manila.

But in her post, Duterte-Carpio questioned the use of the song when the athletes represented the entire Philippines, not just Manila.

“Isn’t it the Philippine flag is represented? Did Lapu-Lapu die for Manila? Don’t make an excuse that it was an upbeat, danceable song,” Duterte-Carpio said.

President Duterte, the first chief executive from Mindanao, has been criticizing what he calls “Manila-centric governance” since his presidential campaign in 2016.

Meanwhile, the President’s constant companion, Senator Christopher Go, said House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, also chairman of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) personally apologized to Duterte Saturday over glitches in the country’s hosting of the 30th SEA Games.

In an interview over radio dzBB, Go said Cayetano apologized to Duterte upon the President’s arrival at the Philippine Arena for the SEA Games’ opening ceremony.

He also told the President they’re hoping to fix everything after the opening.

READ: Let the games begin!

Cayetano admitted there were lapses and shortcomings in the SEA Games preparations that caused inconveniences to some participating teams.

Go said the President responded by saying that they will just work together and the games will proceed.

The senator also said an investigation into the lapses would continue, regardless of the successful staging of the opening ceremonies.

The President himself apologized over the troubled run-up to Saturday’s opening of the SEA Games after a rush of logistical problems and last-minute construction.

Complaints over transport, accommodation and food stacked up as thousands of athletes have flooded into Manila for the biggest ever edition of the Games, which are also threatened by an approaching typhoon forecast to hit the northern Philippines early next week. 

Though initially contrite, Games organizers eventually pushed back against the criticism and took aim at the media for critical reports on the mishaps.

“I’m really apologizing for the country... they (other nations) should know while they are still here that the government is not happy,” Duterte said in an interview that aired Friday, adding he had ordered an investigation.

“You cannot just cast away all those -- the discomfort, the sufferings of the athletes, sleeping on the floors, getting hungry,” he added.

“To the countries that sent them here, it’s a big deal.”

Earlier, the PHISGOC organising committee chief operating officer Ramon Suzara had promised action regarding what he termed “glitches.”

“We’re doing our best to strengthen all those early glitches, which is very normal in the Games,” he told reporters.

As the build-up woes cast a shadow over the Games, Indonesia clinched the first gold medal of the competition with a historic victory, bringing Singapore’s 54-year stranglehold on the men’s water polo competition to an end.

In matters out of its own hands, the Philippines was also bracing for a typhoon which national forecasters warned was steadily intensifying.

PAGASA said Typhoon Kammuri -- which is packing gusts of 170 kilometers per hour and maximum sustained winds of 140 kph -- is heading right for Games venues in the north of the country and is expected to make landfall on Tuesday.

This year’s Games in Clark, Manila and Subic, which run through to Dec. 11, are particularly complex with a record 56 sports across dozens of venues that are in some cases hours’ drive apart, even before Manila’s notorious gridlock traffic is factored in.

The vast scale of the multi-sport event has included erecting a massive sports complex in New Clark City, which is at least two hours’ drive north from the capital.

The Philippines’ path towards Saturday’s opening ceremony – an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of the island nation -- has been tortuous from the start.

Manila in July 2017 suddenly pulled out of hosting the Games to focus on rebuilding the southern city of Marawi which was heavily damaged during siege by jihadists.

But officials made a U-turn just one month later after securing backing from Duterte.

Security remains a top concern, and police have increased visibility at nightspots near competition venues and suspended Filipinos’ right to carry firearms outside their homes.

Almost 16,000 policemen are deployed in various parts of greater Manila, particularly in the venues and hotels where athletes and other delegations are billeted.

The Philippines, which last hosted the biennial games in 2005, is aiming to win the most medals, and history is on their side: seven of the last 11 SEA Games hosts have topped the table, reflecting the tradition of rewriting the sporting program to suit local strengths.

Malaysia topped the table two years ago with home advantage in Kuala Lumpur, ahead of Thailand and Vietnam, with the Philippines in sixth place.

Around 8,750 athletes and team officials are expected at this year’s edition, and there are some 12,000 volunteers. Organizers hope more than 500 million viewers will tune in on TV.

In an eclectic program, Olympic sports like swimming and athletics sit side-by-side with regional favourites like martial arts pencak silat, arnis and wushu, and this year athletes will even battle an obstacle race course in Manila.

Medals will be awarded in eSports -- a first for a multi-sport competition sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, after the discipline featured as a demonstration sport at last year’s Asian Games in Jakarta.

Southeast Asia nations rarely shine at the Olympics, but the region’s two gold medallists from Rio 2016 -- Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling and Vietnamese shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh -- are among the athletes competing in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) denied reports that a forest at the West Ilanin Protected Area was destroyed to make way for the construction of a shooting range for the 30th SEA Games.

“That is a very irresponsible assertion that makes a mockery of truth as we know it”, said SBMA Ecology Center manager Amethya dela Llana.

“There are three trees that we have recommended for cutting out of the affected 25 trees in the area because the rest were only for trimming. How could they say a whole forest was destroyed?” Dela Llana said.

“Also we have pointed out the fact that while the construction project is within the West Ilanin Forest, which is a protected area, the location is already built-up, which means it has been previously developed and therefore no longer classified as a forest,” she added.

Dela Llana had pointed out in a statement on Thursday that the construction of a shotgun shooting range is located at the former explosive ordnance disposal area at the former Naval Magazine in the Subic Bay Freeport.

She said this has been used extensively by the US Navy along with the nearby ammunition pier at Camayan Point, which is now the site of the Ocean Adventure Marine Park. – With AFP

Topics: 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games , Salvador Panelo , Alan Peter Cayetano , Rodrigo Duterte , PHISGOC , Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority
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