The roar of anticipation began even before Team Philippines stepped into the limelight for the parade of nations. And it built into a crescendo as the country’s representatives to the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) finally took the floor in front of an appreciative crowd and a mildly dancing President Rodrigo Duterte.
If the opening ceremony on Saturday at Philippine Arena in Bulacan was meant to change the initial negative perception of the country’s hosting of the biennial meet, it certainly succeeded in doing so.
Celebrity apl.de.ap had audiences dancing and singing along, Manny Pacquiao lit the cauldron in what was a preshot sequence and the national athletes basked in the love of an adoring throng while snaking their way through centerstage.
“I declare open the Southeast Asian Games for the 30th time … mabuhay kayong lahat,” the President said amid cheers from tens of thousands of spectators who queued at the gates as early as 3:30 p.m. and filled the 55,000-seater venue to witness the ceremony.
“[W]e love our Southeast Asian brothers and sisters and through that love, we pray as one, we build as one, we work as one and we win as one,” said Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the chair of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, in his welcome speech.
“Now, more than ever, I’m so proud to be a Filipino,” added Rep. Bambol Tolentino, Philippine Olympic Committee president.
“The opening ceremony has gotten me so pumped for competition,” said jiujitsu star Meggie Ochoa, a gold medal favorite. “It’s all just very inspiring and motivating and I am very much looking forward to fighting my heart out for the flag.”
From foreign athletes flashing wide grins while capturing the spectacle unfolding before them to spectators clad in outfits splashed with the national colors, it was clear organizers won a lot of hearts.
On Sunday, it’s time to win gold medals.
Triathlon gets first crack at glory immediately after dawn.
Defending champion Kim Mangrobang and Asian Games campaigner Kim Kilgroe take on the region’s best in the women’s division while Cebuano rookie Kim Remolino and two-time SEA Games silver medalist John “Rambo” Chicano take on their rivals in the men’s class as the country tries to duplicate the 1-2 sweeps of both divisions in the 2017 Games.
And then there’s the projected gold rush in dancesports, where Team Philippines hopes to waltz its way to a bulk of the 14 gold medals at stake.
“It’s hard to see how it would play out because we only see the practice; we need to see the actual performance,” said Lowell Tan, official of Dancesports Council of the Philippines, on Saturday. “But we Filipinos have that natural inclination to music, and that trumps techniques and skills.”
Ariana Dormitorio also aims for a golden finish on Sunday when the mountain bike cross-country event unfolds at 9 a.m. in Laurel, Batangas.
The Iloilo-born Dormitorio, 22, is looking to cap her year with a strong finish at home, even as she has her eyes on a spot in the Tokyo Olympics next year.
“My goal in the SEA Games is to win the gold, and I’m happy that somehow, I am regularly competing against those riders from Southeast Asia, so more or less, I am already very familiar with them,” Dormitorio said.
Not even a looming storm that’s cutting a path to Central Luzon has dampened the spirits of organizers, who are optimistic that weather won’t affect the Games too much. Some schedules, however, were moved around in anticipation of the rains.
“We needed to do this to make sure the events are completed before bad weather kicks in,” said Tom Carrasco, president of the Triathlon Association of the Philippines. Typhoon “Tisoy” (international name: Kammuri) has been forecast to hit the eastern part of Luzon in the next few days.
With 530 events to be held across 56 sports, the Philippines is hoping that home-court advantage will catapult it to the overall championship. Officials have set bold targets as far as gold medal haul is concerned, with predictions ranging from 180 to 220. The country won the overall title the last time it hosted the SEA Games in 2005, but its performance in the regional meet has spiraled since.
The day actually started on the back heel for the country as Duterte and the organizers apologized for the foul-ups that marred the country’s hosting of the regional Olympics early on.
The President vowed to do better in the coming days, adding he would look into any irregularity in connection with the preparations for the event.
His spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, reiterated the apology for the initial snafus and the planned probe in a statement on Saturday.
But Panelo said the initial mishaps were no reason for the Philippines to be disheartened and to not do its best.
“We are undaunted by the initial snafus in logistics which were unfortunately aggravated by the proliferation of fake news, as we commence with excitement — and hope for a historic milestone — in hosting the 30th SEA Games,” he said.
“At any rate, we wish to reiterate the country’s apology for whatever inconvenience the athletes went through, as well as this administration’s commitment to probe whatever irregularities there were, if any, in the preparation of the event,” Panelo added.
Pacquiao, along with boxer Nesthy Petecio, lit the cauldron from faraway New Clark City in Tarlac in a prestaged shoot that also featured digital fireworks lighting up the world-class arena. The cauldron, a P55-million feature of the Games that raised questions in the Senate, didn’t figure that much in the opening rites.
The lighting, usually the highlight of opening ceremonies of such multievent sports spectacles like the Olympics and the Asian Games, lasted briefly. Images of more fireworks over NCC were flashed again at the end of the ceremony.
And while that part of the inaugurals will face scrutiny in the coming days, it didn’t seem to bother the crowd that waited for nearly four hours to watch a show that lasted around an hour and 45 minutes. Spectators were still giddy as they walked off the coliseum, carrying mental snapshots of Team Philippines strutting to a looped version of popular Hotdog song “Manila.”
Gates opened at 3:30 p.m., but the venue went on lockdown at 5 p.m. for the arrival of President Duterte.
“We’re really happy. I think it just shows the Filipino spirit is strong and well. Everybody is just here to support the country and all our athletes and that’s what counts,” Vince Dizon, president of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, said on Saturday before the opening.
“We’re really excited for our country and for our athletes.”