FOR the next 11 days, the nation’s spotlight will turn to the athletes as they start to hunt for medals in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, which officially fired off on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, at the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte officially declared the opening of the 30th SEA Games, marking the country’s fourth hosting of the 11-nation biennial sporting meet.
“I declare the 30th Southeast Asian Games open. Mabuhay kayong lahat (Long live everyone)!” said Duterte.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said he looks forward to seeing the power of sports bring people together. He said the preparation, which took more than a year, was daunting, but it was all worth it.
“The next 11 days will be eventful, historic and full of sports action. After 14 years, we are hosting the SEA Games again. The long wait is over because of the support of our President Duterte. We are now opening the best and biggest SEA Games in history, and we are proud to be part of this major milestone,” he said.
Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) chairman and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was also grateful to Duterte for making the hosting possible.
‘Old, new’ together
“Today, we gather as brothers and sisters as a community of SEA nations, as children of God seeking to build a better world. We look at these young people (athletes). We see not only the athletes but our own future,” Cayetano said in his speech. “The athletes have passion, discipline, teamwork. That’s everything we need to build a better world,” he added.
Adding colors to the opening ceremony were the Filipino sports legends.
Lydia de Vega Mercado (athletics), Akiko Thomson Guevarra (swimming), Eric Buhain (swimming), Alvin Patrimonio (basketball), Bong Coo (bowling), Efren “Bata” Reyes (billiards), Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco (boxing) and Rafael “Paeng” Nepomuceno (bowling) assembled as they carried the SEA Games Federation Flag.
The flag-bearers in the parade of delegations were the country’s current elite athletes: Cebuana Margielyn Didal, Meggie Ochoa, EJ Obiena, Eumir Felix Marcial and Kiyomi Watanabe.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the Pambansang Kamao, and 2019 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships gold medalist Nesthy Petecio lit the cauldron to cap off the opening ceremony.
The Filipinos are aiming to duplicate what was called “Miracle 2005.” In 2005, the Philippines harvested 113 gold, 84 silver and 94 bronze medals to win the overall championship.
The opening ceremony also showcased Asia’s Nightingale Lani Misalucha, who sang the Philippine national anthem. She was followed by a four-part production, with song and dance numbers performed by celebrated Filipino artists.
The Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and performers from colleges and universities entertained the crowd with a variety of dances choreographed by “Ang Huling El Bimbo” director Dexter Santos and veteran dancer Cherry Villanueva.
Musical artists Christian Bautista, Aicelle Santos, Jed Madela, Elmo Magalona, KZ Tandingan, Iñigo Pascual, The TNT Boys, Ana Fegi, Robert Seña and Apl.de.Ap. performed a medley of songs, including the 2019 SEA Games theme song, “We Win as One.”
The competition goes full swing on Sunday, Dec. 1, to Dec. 11 in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon, Subic and New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.
“Binabati ko po ang atletang Pilipino sa (I would like to greet Filipino athletes during the) opening ng (of the) 30th Southeast Asian Games. Ang mga Pilipino (Filipinos) from Batanes to Basilan to Tawi-Tawi, will be cheering for you. Atletang Pilipino, laban (Filipino athlete, compete),” Philippine chef de mission William “Butch” Ramirez, who’s also the chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
At stake are 530 gold medals in 56 sports.
The Philippines fielded the largest delegation with 1,115 athletes and 753 coaches and officials for a total of 1,868.
The host country faces stiff competition from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
PSC commissioner and PBA legend Ramon Fernandez reminded the athletes to keep their focus on the goal and enjoy the SEA Games journey.
“You have trained hard, sacrificed to reach where you are right now. The time has come to show our countrymen and the world what you’ve got! Keep your focus on the goal and enjoy your journey! We are all behind you in your quest for excellence in your chosen sport! Good luck!” said Fernandez.
The Filipinos have not placed higher than fifth place since the country won the overall championship in 2005. Team Philippines landed sixth in the SEA Games Thailand in 2007, fifth in Laos 2009, sixth in Jakarta 2011, seventh in Myanmar 2013 and sixth in Singapore 2015 and Kuala Lumpur 2017.
This is the fourth time the Philippines is hosting the event. The first time was in 1981, when it was still called the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games. Filipinos placed second during their second hosting in 1991, before finally winning the overall championship in 2005.