MANILA, August 10, 2005 
(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - President Arroyo made a strong pitch for the Southeast Asian Games, calling on all Filipinos to support national athletes in the biennial event.

The President made the call as she instructed Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco Jr. to assume the lead role, in place of Secretary Roberto Pagdananganan, in the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Philsoc) following a crucial meeting Monday at Malacanang on concerns over lagging preparations for the fast-approaching games.

"Each of us must beam with pride that we are being held together by our birthrights as Filipinos. We can only fulfill our destiny together - one vision, one mission, one Filipino connecting to another," the President said in a statement.

The President said the government is committed to make the staging of the 23rd SEAG a big success regardless of the prevailing political atmosphere.

"Sports is one of the things everyone can do together, a universal undertaking that can translate into peace, unity and understanding. We Filipinos must forge our identity on these objectives from every point of view and from every different opinion," the President said.

After the Malacanang meeting, Cojuangco was named the Philsoc chief executive officer while Philippine Sports Commission chair Butch Ramirez was named chief operating officer.

Pagdanganan only keeps his post as chairman and presiding officer of the committee.

Cojuangco said all relevant matters pertaining to the preparations for the games, including the marketing and financial operations, would go through him and Ramirez.

"We (Cojuangco and Ramirez) are ready to speed things up," said Cojuangco.

So far, the Philsoc has raised P800 million in cash and kind, including P300 million from the President’s social fund.

The President made it clear that the Philsoc would not get additional funds from her although she stressed that the committee could approach other government agencies.

Cojuangco said he and Ramirez had sought the support of friends. Some congressmen and senators have promised to pitch in.

The former Tarlac congressman dismissed apprehensions that the games may be cancelled at the last minute due to the current political and economic crisis.

"Definitely, we’ll push through with it. I strongly believe we’ll end up successful in both hosting and participation," said Cojuangco.

"We’d like to think that this is the best time for us to show our bayanihan spirit and forget the animosities brought about by politics," he added.

Cojuangco deplored the fact that some quarters only see the controversy in basketball, forgetting that all other national sports associations are already neck-deep in their buildup.

"These athletes are committed in their lofty goal of bringing honor back to the country. They are definitely focused in this aspect," he said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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