JULY 11, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - And now the lady is a champ.

After boxer Manny Pacquiao was named "Champion for Life" by President Arroyo, Miss International Precious Lara Quigaman, the Filipino gold medalists in the Southeast Asian Games and the Mount Everest conquerors will also be given the same title, Malacañang announced yesterday.

At the same time, the President ordered the release of P1 million to the Philippine Practical Shooting Association (PPSA) after the Filipino team topped the third Association of Southeast Asian Nations League International Practical Shooting Confederation Level III held in Jakarta, Indonesia last July 2.

Under Executive Order No. 540, Mrs. Arroyo said it was proper to recognize outstanding achievements in sports, beauty and similar fields of competition "that foster extraordinary national pride and inspiration toward excellence."

The President announced the additional rank of "Champion for Life" (Kampeon Habang Buhay) to the Order of Lakandula award after Pacquiao won by unanimous decision over Mexican boxer Oscar Larios on July 2. She said achievers like him must be honored just like national artists and scientists.

She said Pacquiao would be the first recipient along with some others.

Quigaman won the Miss International crown in Tokyo, Japan in September 2005, ending the country’s long drought in international beauty pageant titles. The Filipino gold medalists led the Philippine campaign in winning its first ever overall championship when the country hosted the SEA Games last November and December.

The Filipinos who reached the peak of Mount Everest this year were Heracleo Oracion, Erwin Emata, Romeo Garduce and Dale Abenojar.

Oracion and Emata said they were deeply honored to be named as recipients of the National Sports Hero Award.

"We’re truly honored that President Arroyo included our names to be given that award. We really appreciate everything, and that such an award was given to us," said Oracion.

Emata said the award came as a big surprise since they did not expect receiving the honor when they first thought of climbing Mt. Everest this year.

The STAR tried but failed to reach Garduce.

Abenojar, again the odd man out, said he was deeply hurt over the snub dealt him by Malacañang.

"Napakalungkot at napakasakit na mabalewala lahat ang pinaghirapan ko ng ganyan (I am very sad and hurt that all my sacrifices are being ignored like this)," Abenojar said, adding the snub cut open freshly healed emotional wounds he had suffered over doubts raised by some of his countrymen on his claimed accomplishment.

Abenojar is now recovering from the amputation of his left big toe that had to be cut off due to severe gangrene infection caused by frostbite during his bitter quest up Mt. Everest.

Meanwhile, the President announced the release of additional funds for PPSA during a courtesy call by Filipino team members Jag Leaño, Stephen Hinujales, Jay Morales, Christian Panganiban, Julie Defensor and Marlon Valencia.

"Congratulations and thank you for bringing honor to our country," a beaming Mrs. Arroyo said.

Only half of the P1 million, according to her, would go directly to the PPSA as part of its training fund. The other half would go to Leaño, the reigning World Shoot Champion, who became the first Filipino to achieve the feat last year.

Mrs. Arroyo said she decided to add to the shooter’s fund since, aside from boxing, "shooting is something where we can excel in."

The Philippine team bested competitors from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, among others.

Hinujales won the gold medal in the competitions and was adjudged "the fastest gun in Asia." Leaño won the bronze in the Open Shoot Category while Valencia grabbed the silver in the Standard Category.

The PPSA was organized in 1982 by Jack Enrile who was first introduced to practical shooting as a student in the United States.

Enrile, son of Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, subsequently brought this "idea" with him when he came back to the Philippines. After numerous meetings with gun shooting aficionados, the first formal practical shooting competition in the country organized by the

PPSA was held in April 1983.

Today, the PPSA conducts regular training sessions with local law enforcement agencies such as the Special Weapon and Tactics (SWAT) group, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

They are also busy promoting the Philippines as a place in Asia where professionalism and brotherhood prevail in the spirit of friendly competition in shooting. — With Rainier Allan Ronda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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