I remember the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. That was just 24 months ago. The venue? Our very own, the Philippines. I remember RP’s No.1 song then, “Pinoy Ako.” We sang the Orange and Lemons tune, nodded our heads, swayed our hips, waved, danced, and pointed our right index finger to the sky signaling that, yes, we’re number “1.”
Cecil Mamiit, after capturing the tennis gold (This photo and all photos below by Rocky de Castro of www.pbase.com/rockolobster)
And, yes, we were No.1. In the 11-nation meet that meets every two years, we stood at the tallest podium and displayed our glittering medals for the whole ASEAN to see. Not one, six, 13 or 58 gold medals—but 113 gold medals that hung on the necks of our Filipino athletes.
I felt proud to be a Filipino. At the Opening Ceremony held at the Cebu City Sports Center, goose-bumps riddled my body. I grinned from ear-to-ear and my heart raced like I just sprinted the 110-meter hurdles.
At the USC Gym, I watched pencak silat. What, exactly, is pencak silat? Don’t ask me but I trooped to USC, observed it and, never mind not knowing why they kick that native object upwards, cheered for our RP Team.
Next, I drove to Danao City. There, I watched Maritess Bitbit and Niño Surban in the Mountain Bike (MTB) event and sat riveted at the dangerous men’s downhill biking competition.
Days after, I flew to Manila. With my wife Jasmin, Dr. Ronnie Medalle and his wife Stephanie, we watched track and field, witnessed the 10,000-meter women’s race and took a peek at our men’s baseball team smashing homeruns.
Then, the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center shook as thousands crammed the bleachers. And when Cecil Mamiit and Eric Taino won the tennis event—and especially when “Pinoy Ako” blared from the loudspeakers and Mamiit danced in the middle of the court—pandemonium erupted. GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!
Mamiit (left) with teammate Johnny Arcilla
The following day, Jasmin and I visited the Philsports Arena. You know who else was there to watch badminton? Mike Arroyo. And while our netters were no match against the shuttlers from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia—Mike Arroyo smiled. And he had reasons to smile.
Though never a fan of our president’s husband, I saluted Mike Arroyo when he raised over P160 million to help fund our SEAG quest. He called Danding Cojuangco of San Miguel and Jaime Zobel de Ayala of Globe Telecom. They shook hands. And because they did—as did hundreds of other sponsors and volunteers and dedicated Filipinos who helped—Team Philippines succeeded.
In all, our December of 2005 was a huge Christmas celebration. For the first time in history, the Philippines won the overall crown.
Here in our city during the Closing Ceremony at the Sports Center, the three main organizers—Jonathan Guardo, Cheryl Ouano, and Boying Rodriguez—were all-smiles as the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Danao held hands to host the biggest-ever sporting event in our province’s history.
Guardo (left) with Gov. Gwen Garcia and (in light blue) First Gentleman Mike Arroyo (Photo by Sun.Star)
That, of course, is now history. From first place, we’ve plunged to sixth place in last week’s Thailand SEAG. From 113 gold medals, we tumbled down to 41—a net loss of, would you believe, 72 gold medals.
What does this mean? Tracing back history, here’s what it signifies: Excluding the first SEAG in 1977, the RP team has placed champion once (in 2005), second overall twice, third place five times, fourth place four times, and fifth place three times.
Sixth place? Never. Not until last week. And here’s more: Singapore, whose tiny population of 4.5 million is dwarfed by our 91 million, beat us in the gold medal count, 43 to 41.
Upsetting? No. Embarrassing.