RIO Olympians Mary Joy Tabal and Charly Suarez along with other 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games medalists still could not believe sharing the same stage with President Rodrigo Duterte, conversing and loving with him and receiving a presidential citation during Wednesday's awarding of cash incentives at the Malacañan Palace.
Tabal, a 28-year-old SEA Games women's marathon gold medalist from Cebu City, said it was a great privilege for her to be able to present her medal to the president.
"Nakakita najud ko ni Tatay Digong in person! Happy kaayo ko and was very excited to see him jud, was able to shake his hands twice pajud kay ako man nagpresent sa gold medal then pag recognized pajud sa mga gold medalists. As in, lipay kaau ko (I met Tatay Digong in person at last! I was really happy and excited to see him and I was able to shake his hands twice because I presented the gold and when all gold medalists were recognized. I'm so happy)," Tabal said.
She recalled that the first time she went on stage, Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William "Butch" Ramirez told the president that Tabal is also "Bisaya" being from Cebu.
"Kaya sabi ni president sa akin, `Basta Bisaya, gahi jud ta (We Visayans are really strong)." Taz sinabi ko din na, `Opo Sir, gahi jud ta,' sabay tawa (Then I replied, `Yes Sir, we are very strong')," Tabal shared via Facebook interview.
When she received the presidential citation and her check of P300,000 incentive, President Duterte asked her what she will do with her money, adding, "Ayaw egasto sa uyab ha? (Don't spend it on your boyfriend)." To this, the Cebuana ace answered, "Dili ui (No, I'm not)."
Tabal also said that all the athletes really wanted to have a selfie with him but it was prohibited.
"Lahi rajud if sya mag-present sa cheque and i-recognize mi niya, mas na motivate mi to really work harder kay lahi rajud na nehatag sya ug time namo, meaning ning support sya namo (It's a different feeling that he presented us the checks and recognized us, motivating us to really work harder since he really gave us time to show us his support) and we love him even more for that," she said, adding that the president's sense of humor really made them laugh although he looked tired.
Boxer Suarez of Sawata, Davao del Norte, who salvaged a bronze in the Kuala Lumpur biennial meet, said shaking the president's hand for the first time was unforgettable.
"Sobra ka dako nga inspirasyon og kalipay, dili matungkad, ang makauban namo sya og marecognize mi nya (I am overjoyed and inspired that we can be with him and being recognized by him). Enjoy kasi sabi nya, `Dito ka upo sa harap ko kasi sinabi ni Chairman na taga Panabo ka'. Humble sya talaga," Suarez, who began his amateur career with the Barangay Una Boxing Team of Panabo before joining the national boxing team in 2004, said.
Davao City's Rexor Romaquin Tacay, who copped a karate silver, said: "Mas lalo po akong motivated na mag gold sa susunod na SEA Games para makapagbigay po ulit ng karangalan sa ating bansa at may solo pic ako kay Tatay Digong with my medal."
Only gold medalists were given the chance to have a solo photo opportunity with President Duterte who handed them their incentives and plaques.
Dabawenya judo bronze medalist Sydney Sy Tancontian, for her part, said, "Sobrang saya po kasi once in a lifetime opportunity na marecognize yung ginawa naming achievement ng Presidente natin mismo."
Tancontian shared that the president when he was mayor of Davao City also feted her among other outstanding athletes.
Gold medalists each received P300,000 from PSC while silver and bronze winners got P150,000 and P60,000. The Siklab Atleta Pilipinas Sports Foundation awarded additional P50,000, P30,000 and P10,000 to the gold, silver and bronze winners through the initiative of Presidential Adviser for Sports Dennis Uy.
President Duterte, in his message, said, "I encourage our athletes to focus on improving and to strive to do better in the next SEA Games. Rest assured that the government and the Filipino people will support every step of the way. Continue to represent the best of what the Philippines has to offer here and abroad."