MANILA, July 20, 2005 
(STAR) From a paltry two-gold medal haul the last time out, the Philippine billiards squad is confident of raking in a bagful of gold medals this time when the country’s hosts the 23rd Southeast Asian Games in November.

With former world 9-ball champion Efren "Bata" Reyes and former world No.1 Francisco "Django" Bustamante heading the roster, the Philippines is fancied to lord it over the field in both the billiards and snooker events in the biennial meet slated Nov. 27-Dec. 5. The sport’s godfather, Aristeo "Putch" Puyat, said the Billiards and Snooker Congress of the Philippines (BSCP) under president Ernesto Fajardo, let the players themselves select who among them will comprise the team based on the ranking points they earned in both local and international tournaments.

The 50-year-old Reyes easily topped the list with a total of 360 points followed by Bustamante (340 pts), Gandy Valle (260), Rodolfo Luat (190) and 2004 World Pool champion Alex Pagulayan (180).

Others making it to the team are Lee Van Corteza, Ronnie Alcano, Antonio Gabica and Marlon Manalo. Antonio Lining occupies the 10th spot, although the final berth may likely go to Warren Kiamco being the other half of the defending 9-ball doubles champion along with Corteza.

Puyat was with Fajardo and BSCP chairperson Yen Macabenta in yesterday’s PSA Forum at the Pantalan Restaurant in Manila, where they formally announced the composition of the team and the process by which they were selected.

"The BSCP board decided it would be best to let players select members of the team themselves through the results of the various tournaments, both local and international, where the Filipinos were allowed to compete," said Puyat in the public sports program sponsored by Red Bull, Circure, Supermax, PAGCOR and Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.

Among the tournaments considered were the San Miguel Asian 9-ball Tour, the dual Hope P1 million meet, Bali Open, Japan Open, Philippine International Open and the recent World Pool championship in Taipei.

The team is competing in snooker singles, doubles and team, English billiards singles and doubles, one-cushion carom singles, 8 and 9-ball singles and doubles and 15-ball singles and doubles of the Philippine SEA Games.

With the casting coup, Fajardo is hopeful the country will be able to surpass the two gold medals won by the Filipino cue artists in the 2003 Vietnam SEA Games — the 9-ball doubles and 8-ball singles courtesy of Corteza.

"We’re fielding in the best players that’s why I’m more confident we’ll be able to win a lot of gold medals this time," said the BSCP president.

Macabenta feels the same way, although he cautioned that capable of pulling surprises are those from Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Such scenario happened in the Vietnam SEA Games two years ago when Reyes and Bustamante bombed out one after the other in the 9-ball competition they supposed to dominate. Mohamad Nuharto of Indonesia won the gold in the centerpiece event.

"First of all, walang entries here from Taipei so the chance of winning gold medals is really strong. But we can’t disregard ‘yung mga Southeast Asian players. They’re slowly catching up with us," said Macabenta.

The BSCP chairman added he sees the Filipinos dominating the 8-ball and rotation events, but said the 9-ball will be a wide-open race.

"Kasi ang 9-ball very simple laruin kaya lahat talagang may tsansa," Macabenta said.

Puyat said he hopes to submit before the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) the final composition of the team, which also have four women entries, within the week.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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