MANILA, November 23, 2005 
(STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang gave Filipino athletes a moral boost yesterday and expressed confidence that the Philippines would bag the overall championship in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games to be held in the country beginning Sunday.

President Arroyo herself led the inspection of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila’s Rizal Park, where the opening rites will be held, and received a security briefing from top Philippine National Police (PNP) officials yesterday afternoon.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told officials of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games organizing committee, who paid a courtesy call on Mrs. Arroyo at the Premier Guest House of the Palace, that the President hopes for a successful Filipino campaign in the biennial conclave.

The President was in Sultan Kudarat in the morning for the groundbreaking ceremonies of a new hospital and the 32nd foundation anniversary of the province. "We are not only hopeful, we are confident that this time the Philippines will bag most of the medals and will get the overall championship. The entire Filipino nation is behind you," Ermita said, referring to the athletes.

The Philippines fell just one gold medal short of winning the overall championship the last time it hosted the games in 1991. "Ang masasabi natin sa mga manlalaro, sa athletes ng Pilipinas, do your best! Ating itaguyod ang bandila ng Pilipinas at ipakita natin sa buong mundo na ang mga Pilipino ay magagaling lalo na sa larangan ng palakasan upang sa ganoon ay makita sa buong mundo kung anong uri ng tao ang mga Pilipino (We exhort the Filipino athletes to do their best. Let us play for flag and country and show the world that Filipinos can also excel in sports)," he added.

Ermita is optimistic that the country could successfully host the SEA Games under the stewardship of Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose Cojuangco Jr. and Philippine Sports Commission chair William Ramirez. Cojuangco and Ramirez also accompanied the President during her inspection of the grandstand.

The President thanked the technical workforce at the site preparing for the opening and closing ceremonies of the SEA Games. The Palace assured the safety of foreign athletes, journalists covering the events and visitors coming to the Philippines for the SEA Games. The PNP is in charge of the safety and security of participants and the public.

Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Tor, security committee chairman for the SEA Games, said they are making sure all local and foreign delegates will be safe, stressing that they have not received any specific threats related to the international event. But Tor said they would not take anything for granted because terrorists could attack out of the blue and ruin the country’s image before the world.

"We will also look into street crimes, near the hotels," Tor said, explaining it was important to give foreign delegates safety reminders as soon as they arrive at the airports. He said an anti-criminality team has been formed to stop criminals from taking advantage of the presence of so many foreigners in the country. "So far, everything’s okay," Tor said.

He said thousands of policemen and soldiers would be deployed to provide security to the various venues for the events.

Meanwhile, Cojuangco predicted a gold rush for the Philippines in the nine-day meet featuring 11 nations from the region. He expects victories to come mostly in the martial arts events such as taekwondo, wushu and arnis as well as in boxing. Cojuangco said the POC’s grassroots development plan should increase the Philippines’ chances of bagging an elusive gold medal in the Olympics and further strengthen the Filipino athletes’ competitiveness not only in the SEA Games, but also in the Asian Games.

"There are many local government officials who are supportive of this cause. I told them to choose five to 10 sports that we could focus on and we will help all the way in realizing a grassroots development program," he said.

Philippine representative to the International Olympic Committee Frank Elizalde accompanied Cojuangco and Ramirez during the courtesy call, which replaced the traditional visit of the athletes to the Palace. Filipino athletes participating in the meet are now busy preparing at the various venues, which include Cebu, Subic, and Tagaytay, while football has already started in Bacolod and water polo in Los Baños.

Water Polo Campaign: Singapore sinks RP in thriller The Philippine Star 11/23/2005

LOS BAÑOS — The RP water polo team’s campaign in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games suffered a major setback last night when it dropped a heartbreaking 6-7 loss to defending champion Singapore before a disappointed crowd at the TRACE Aquatics Center here.

The Filipinos actually appeared headed for a big upset when they led the Singaporeans, 4-3, going into the final frame of the match. But the defending champions fought back, scoring two of the next three goals to tie the score at 5-5 with three minutes left in the contest.

The score remained tied at 6-6 with 1:30 left before the Singaporeans, behind a field goal by Terence Tan, scored in the final minute in what proved to be the winning basket. The victory was the second straight for the Singaporeans in as many games.

Coming off a 15-10 win over the Indonesians last Monday, the Filipinos fell to 1-1 and dropped into a four-way tie with Vietnam, Malaysia and 2003 runner-up Thailand. With the loss, the RP bets now need to win their last three assignments and hope Singapore will drop two of its next three outings to gain a crack at a first ever gold medal in the sport. The Filipinos play the Thais in a crucial game today at 6:30 p.m., also at the TRACE Aquatics Center.

Earlier, the Malaysians pulled a stunner over the fancied Thais, 7-4, to bounce back in contention following a 3-21 rout at the hands of the Singaporeans the other night. Also barging into the win column was Vietnam, which eked out a 13-12 victory over Indonesia in a high-scoring game.

Singapore, meanwhile, goes for its third straight win against Indonesia at 5:15 p.m. after 4 p.m. match between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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