The 31st Southeast Asian Games held in Hanoi, Vietnam recently concluded with the Philippines almost securing a podium finish. We ranked fourth in the overall tally with 226 medals in total, behind host Vietnam (first), Thailand (second), and Indonesia (third). While this outing is three spots below and 161 medals fewer than our 1st place finish in the 2019 SEA Games, the latest result is the country’s best (as a non-host) since the 22nd SEA Games, also held in Hanoi almost two decades ago when we achieved the same 4th place finish.
Our medal haul was propelled by our athletes’ excellent performances in Athletics with a total of 26 medals (5 Gold, 7 Silver, 14 Bronze), Gymnastics with 14 medals (7 Gold, 4 Silver, and 3 Bronze), Dancesport (5 Gold, 5 Silver, and 2 Bronze) and Wrestling (7 Silver and 5 Bronze) both with 12 medals each.
Truly, our athletes deserve much praise. Their eagerness to succeed was so palpable that even before the opening ceremonies, Francine Padios of the Pencak Silat team had already won a gold medal for the Women’s Artistic Single event.
The recent games were not short of record-breaking performances and the ends of decade-long medal droughts. For instance, EJ Obiena updated his SEA Games men’s pole vault record to 5.46 meters in just one take, while weightlifter Vanessa Sarno surpassed all SEA Games records in the women’s 71kg event. Jess Geriane also broke the national record when she finished the women’s 50-meter backstroke in only 29.38 seconds.
Chloe Isleta put an end to the gold medal drought in women’s swimming. The Philippine bowling team composed of Merwin Tan, Patrick Neil Nuqui, Ivan Dominic Malig, and Christian Dychangco similarly put a stop to the 11-year wait for a medal in bowling. So did the Philippine Women’s Football Team ending a 37-year dry spell, when they beat Myanmar and took home bronze.
Olympian Carlos Yulo delivered another master class performance in gymnastics after bagging a total of five gold and two silver medals—his total medal count in the latest SEA Games is equal to that of the previous edition but with more golds this time around. The tandem of Sean Mischa Aranar and Ana Leonila Nualla must also be commended after winning three gold medals in various events of Dancesport.
The story of Richard Gonzales, a 51-year-old Army personnel who competed in men’s table tennis, also emerged as particularly inspirational. The Philippine Table Tennis Federation advised the veteran that he can serve as a playing coach for the team, but Gonzales was so determined to play at the top level that he outclassed much younger competitors and ended up winning a silver medal for the country.
It is only proper that these athletes are rewarded. This is why we sponsored in 2015 RA 10699, which increased the incentives for national athletes and coaches. Under the law, athletes who represented the country in the SEA Games are entitled to cash incentives ranging from P60,000 to P300,000 depending on their finish. Their coaches shall be entitled to cash incentives equivalent to 50 percent of the amount given for gold, silver, and bronze medal winners. Moreover, those who surpass any Philippine record or ranking in any measurable international sports competition shall be given cash incentives, to be determined by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
We filed another measure, Senate Bill No. 1225, to further increase these cash incentives granted to national athletes and coaches. We intend to refile and push for this legislation in the upcoming 19th Congress with the hopes of helping our athletes stay motivated and sustain their momentum.
Of course, there are areas for improvement that must not be overlooked. While we are confident that the Philippine Men’s Basketball team will immediately bounce back from their runner-up finish, the end to our 33-year dominance in the sport was rightly flagged as a “wakeup call” by sports officials. We must also look into why the Philippine bodybuilding team was barred from joining the SEA Games due to the team’s failure to submit a doping test result on time and the alleged lack of accreditation.
Issues like these can be better resolved once the National Sports Training Center is fully operational. We authored the Center’s enabling law, RA 11214, to create a world-class venue where our athletes can hone their skills and do so through a science-based approach.
All of our athletes and coaches deserve nothing less, especially those competing overseas against foreign athletes who have been primed using state-of-art facilities in their respective countries. It is crucial for the incoming administration to build on existing sports development programs and ramp up support to sustain the winning ways of Filipino athletes.
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 18 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 9 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 250 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
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