"Let's sit back and enjoy the games."
I caught the official video of the 30th SEAG opener on YouTube, and what a grand show it turned out to be indeed. The positive responses on Facebook have been pretty emotional, and understandably so; I was not a little moist-eyed myself.
Of course the yellow lice were being bitter online as usual. I especially liked the fulminations of one Raissa Robles, who did her undergrad degree proud—in “imaginative English writing,” and magna cum laude at that!—by complaining about ballet routines, the genealogy of rapper apl.de.ap, and comparing the show to Hitler’s 1938 Berlin Olympics opener. How sad it must be to be someone like her.
For the rest of us who’ve got our heads screwed on right, though, we shouldn’t have been surprised by the opener’s success. After all, Filipinos are known to put on good entertainment shows. But as I write this piece, the country has already won two gold medals, in track and wushu. Perhaps this is a harbinger of better things to come this week.
Will our athletes do as well as the entertainers did, notwithstanding the appalling record of our sports officials over the decades, not to mention the fury of incoming Typhoon “Tisoy?” It’s part of the magic of sports that we’ll have to wait to the very end to find out, and so very often can we be surprised.
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I was nailed to my seat from the very first dance number, featuring a costumed sarimanok—a folk figure that can be found in other ASEAN countries as well—dancing alone to pulsing tribal rhythms and—of all things—the repeated chanting of “Kyrie eleison.”
Any Catholic churchgoer knows that this is the Greek phrase for “Lord, have mercy” (“Panginoon
, kaawaan mo kami
”), the responsorial of the Penitential Act within the Mass. This must have been known—aside from the Filipinos—only to the delegates from Timor Leste, the only other Catholic Asian country thanks to their Portuguese heritage.
This opening number showed the world how seamlessly our Catholic faith is today part of our culture and history, as the local Church comes up on its quincentennial in two years. But it would also have been appreciated by the other non-Christian delegates, for whom the Deity by whatever name they call Him—Bathala, Panginoon, Al’lah—animates the enduring spirituality of our region.
* * *
As the different national delegations took to the stage—many of them, cellphone cameras held up high, obviously impressed by the size of the crowd in what is billed as the world’s largest covered arena—I was struck by how much we looked like each other. The Malaysians were a little swarthier, the Timorese a little fairer, but all in all, it was evident that we were all brothers (and sisters) to each other, on the skin and not just under it.
This was obviously the first meaning of the Games theme, “We win as one!” As the region forms closer bonds, not only for common growth but also for common protection against a common maritime bully, sports events like SEAG are important in bridging the waters that separate us from each other in order to find common ground.
The second meaning of the theme is a bit more conventional: a reminder that success, in life as well as in sports, depends on unity, team spirit, and teamwork. Are we asking too much to expect our own sports officials to start thinking less of themselves, and more of the athletes entrusted to their care, if we are to do better at events like this?
The third meaning was directed squarely at the largely Filipino arena audience and offsite viewership, in the imposing presence of our controversial president: We can win only as one nation. Fortunately for us, Duterte has achieved, and still enjoys, a singular level of unified popular support. There will always be the Raissas around, but if they can’t overcome their own irrelevancies, that’s their burden to bear.
I came across an FB post that answered, point by point, all the criticism that greeted the SEAG—from expensive cauldrons (most of the money goes into what’s under the pole) to visiting teams who had to sleep on hotel floors (it’s because they arrived ahead of schedule) to kikiam on the menu (actually chicken sausage for the benefit of Muslims). Someone will have to answer for why this fake news got picked up so easily by the media abroad, almost as if it were all orchestrated.
For his part, Alan Cayetano has promised to subject himself afterwards to parliamentary and even COA investigation of the way the funds were managed. That is good enough for now; we can be sure that the Raissas of the world can’t wait to dig their claws into him. But right now, everyone’s still on a post-opener high, we’re winning medals, we’re getting a lot of free publicity abroad. Let’s sit back and enjoy the games!
* * *
In today’s first reading (Is 11: 1-10) the prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of the new Davidic king, a “shoot that shall sprout from the stump of Jesse”, a king “whom the nations will seek out”. His is a kingdom where “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, the calf and the lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”
It's a paradisiac vision that Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples to proclaim to the world, following in the footsteps of the Twelve. When they return overjoyed at their success, Jesus blesses them and reminds them of His own divinity: “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Among those to whom He was revealed, many centuries later, was the 16th century Spanish missionary St Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Society of Jesus, whose feast we celebrate today. The “soldiers of the Pope” now have one of their own seated in the Papal chair. Over and above the athletic prowess of their local Ateneo charges on the basketball court, the continuing success of the Jesuits’ educational mission deserves our prayers.
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