MALACANANG, December 20, 2003  (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Filipino athletes who won medals in the Vietnam SEA Games won’t have to wait long before they receive their cash incentives from the Philippine Sports Commission.

In fact, they won’t have to wait longer than Christmas day.

The athletes, together with their respective coaches, went to Malacañang yesterday and presented their medals to President Arroyo, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo and representatives from the government and private sector.

The close to 200 athletes, on board five buses, brought with them the 48 gold, 54 silver and 75 bronze medals they won in Vietnam. They were met by the First Gentleman at the shining Heroes’ Hall.

Over lunch, the First Gentleman asked Philippine Games and Amusements Corp. (Pagcor) chairman Efraim Genuino to expedite the release of the close to P12 million in cash incentives.

"Maybe we can ask Chairman Genuino to release your cash incentives before Christmas," the First Gentleman said over the microphone.

This elicited a thundering round of applause from the athletes and coaches who all came in their barong tagalog parade uniforms.

A gold medal won in Vietnam is worth P100,000, silver P50,000 and bronze P10,000 with the coaches getting their own, separate share.

Genuino was not around but chairman Eric Buhain of the PSC assured the athletes that everything will be worked out upon the request of the First Gentleman.

Also present during the affair were International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines Frank Elizalde, Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit, RP chef de mission Julian Camacho and the leaders of the victorious national sports associations.

The First Gentleman was still up on the stage when the President gave him a ring, saying she was on the way back to Malacañang after attending the anniversary rites of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo.

In just a few minutes, the President arrived and was met with cheers from the athletes, coaches and officials.

In her short speech, the President branded the athletes as "world class," drawing another round of applause.

"You don’t know how you made all of us proud to be Filipinos," said the President.

Aside from congratulating the athletes and officials, Mrs. Arroyo specially thanked her husband for being there with them in Vietnam to cheer the Filipino athletes.

The First Gentleman, himself a golfer and sports buff, spearheaded the fund-raising drive that raised P22 million from private sector donations that augmented the financial support provided by the government to the individual athletes and the Philippine teams that competed in the Games.

Of the 48 gold medals won, Buhain said 40 of them got support from private donors. — With reports from Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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