By Nick Giongco and Joseph Pedrajas
A ceasefire takes effect the whole of Saturday when host Philippines pulls the curtains off to open the 30th Southeast Asian Games with a spellbinding showcase of Filipino culture at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
While hostilities have commenced the last six days, a 24-hour truce was enforced by the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) to allow the athletes and officials from 11 nations to take a break from the usual grind and soak up the electric atmosphere.
Working around the battlecry, “We Win As One,” the Phisgoc swears it is unveiling a show like no other, something that even the most discriminating will find hard to resist.
“This is the type of opening ceremony that has never been done before,” Phisgoc chief operating officer Tats Suzara told reporters after a press conference at the International Broadcasting Center on Friday.
“Let us look into this as a very memorable and historic opening ceremony that we have two venues at the same time…with our world class artists, Filipino talents and beauty queens,” he added.
Some of the best entertainers have been tapped to make the night unforgettable.
Lani Misalucha, KZ Tandigan and Apl.de.ap, the Grammy-award winning rapper, are going to provide a modern angle during the presentation that will highlight the country’s storied past via a parade featuring 11 beauty queens.
Renowned composer Ryan Cayabyab and playwright Floy Quintos are going to work behind the scenes with the help of US-based company FiveCurrents.
Various traditional folk dances involving participants wearing ornate costumes and rococo accessories also highlight the lavish opening ceremonies that have drawn flak owing to its supposed extravagance.
IOC, OCA execs coming
Officials not only from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), but from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are arriving to attend the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Suzara revealed that the OCA official will serve as observer while the pair of IOC officials will be here to drumbeat the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“That only shows that what we are hosting is a prestigious event,” said Suzara, who is joining hands with the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) in holding the ambitious staging of the biennial sportsfest.
The government earmarked a whopping P6 billion to stage the biennial sportsfest with the P55-million cauldron at the New Clark City (NCC) in Capas, Tarlac, about 85 kilometers from the Philippine Arena, likewise getting its share of the spotlight.
Suzara stressed that, “it is the first in the history of the SEA Games that the opening ceremony will be held indoor.”
“A lot of questions about fireworks, it is indoor. How do we light the cauldron, it is indoor,” he said. “That’s the highlight.”
“We’re doing the digital type of technology for the fireworks. This is quite different from the previous Southeast Asian Games,” he added.
Boxing legend Manny Pacquiao will be the torch bearer and will be joined by another Filipino boxing icon, Suzara bared.
But the Phisgoc has remained tight-lipped about how the cauldron will be lit up by Pacquiao, who had actually fulfilled his role by having its set ablaze last Sunday during a dry run.
A video of Pacquiao’s handiwork at the NCC will be spliced and inserted onto the program.
As everyone gets a breather, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), whose chairman Butch Ramirez, also serves as the Philippines’ chief of mission, called on all Filipinos to rally behind the country’s hosting and cheer for the Filipino athletes.
“Mga kababayan, magkasia tayo para sa ating bansa, wala na tayong ibang bayan kundi Pilipinas lang (Let’s all unite for our nation, we have no other country other than the Philippines),” said Ramirez on thieve of the formal opening.
“Can we focus and get united for these 11 days to support our Team Philippines in the biggest fight of their lives, for honor and glory of our dear motherland.”
“Let us all enjoy this experience, for when will we ever have the Games visit us again? It is our chance to see high-level competition played on our backyard. So I enjoin all of you, get your flaglets waving and let us troop to the venues to show our support to our teams,” added Ramirez.
The 2019 edition of the SEAG will have a total of 56 sports and 530 gold medal up for grabs from Nov. 30 until Dec. 11.
The Philippines, as host, is heavily favored to win the overall crown but remains wary of undisputed regional powerhouse Thailand.
Aside from Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, are the biggest threats to the Philippines bid to dominate the leaderboard.
The Philippines is sending 1,100 athletes and appears poised to go on a rampage while Thailand and the other traditional powers are sending a bit less.
In the 2017 SEAG in Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines placed sixth overall with a dismal medal tally of 23-34-63 after competing in close to 500 events out of 38 sports.
The last time the Philippines won the overall championship was in 2005 when it was the host.
We are 100% ready
Despite various snafus that initially greeted the participating athletes, Suzara believed that the country is now “one hundred percent ready” to formally open the 30th SEA Games.
“Now, everything is okay,” he said.
With a tropical cyclone threatening to dampen the sports events, Suzara remains confident that the Philippines is prepared.
“All sports have contingency plan, even without typhoon that is coming into place, especially for the outdoor sports,” Suzara said.
“Everything is in place. What is important now is all competition managers should be prepared in case competitions will be cancelled,” he added.
Suzara said that each venue, particularly the ones holding outdoor sports, already has its contingency plan.
For sports event that may need to be cancelled in case of a heavy downpour, Suzara said, “it should be the decision of the formal delegate [to cancel].”
Upon the instruction of President Duterte, tickets for the SEA Games in some sporting events would be given for free.
Suzara said that these tickets may be claimed at the city halls or at certain malls.
“[They] need to undergo security check,” he said.
Several point-to-point buses (P2P) from and to sporting venues will also be available to public, the Phisgoc COO added.
In a separate briefing, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, Phisgoc chairman, also announced on Friday that tickets for a majority of the sporting events for the 30th SEA Games will be given out to the public for free.
But for those who want to avail themselves of complementary general admission tickets, they may do so on a first-come, first-served basis for some sports and for the closing ceremony.
He said there were also allotted general admission tickets which will be distributed to some local government units (LGUs) having jurisdiction over particular SEA Games venues like Manila, Pasay City, Pasig City, Muntinlupa City for Metro Manila cluster; Sta. Rosa and Biñan for Laguna cluster; Tagaytay for Cavite cluster; and Calatagan in Batangas Province.
Free tickets will also be distributed to public for specific venues like in Angeles City, Pampanga; San Fernando, Pampanga; San Juan, La Union; Subic, Zambales; and Capas in Tarlac where the New Clark City is located. (With a report from Hanah Tabios)