PINOYS UNFAZED, BAG 5 MORE GOLDS / THAILAND  APOLOGIZES TO RP

MANILA, December 2, 2005 
(STAR) By Abac Cordero - After a three-day splurge, Team Philippines slowed down a bit yesterday but remained safely ahead of a hungry pack with only four days left in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games. Five gold medals were safely in their hands as of 8 p.m. with a few more competitions going on elsewhere. Filipino athletes have won five, 20, 16 and 17 gold medals over the previous four days, respectively. The gold haul on the first day of December gave the Filipinos a total of 63 gold, 41 silver and 49 bronze medals halfway through the SEA Games, which come to a close on Monday. There were only 40 gold medals disputed yesterday. And fortunately for the Philippines, fierce rivals Vietnam and Thailand failed to dominate the action, hardly making a dent in the total medals won by the hosts.

Vietnam, as of presstime, also had four golds to show for a second-running total of 43-39-48 while Thailand, still looking to land the big punch, bagged another four for a total of 34-36-53 to place third overall. It seemed that Thailand, nine times the overall champion in the SEA Games, had landed a crushing blow the other day when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra reportedly questioned the conduct of officiating at the Games. But this charge was parried not only by the Philippines but the entire SEA Games Federation, whose members met yesterday afternoon and found no solid basis for the accusations.

Chief organizer Jose "Peping" Cojuangco wrote President Arroyo a letter yesterday, assuring her that "all events are officiated in a very transparent manner."

Thailand will have to find other or better ways to catch up to Vietnam, the reigning overall champion, even before it could think of dislodging the Philippines from first place. The next two days will be the lull before the storm. On Sunday, the penultimate day of the Games, a record 100 gold medals (unless event changes are made) will be up for grabs.

It’s the first time in SEA Games history that as many gold medals will be disputed on a single day, and this year’s overall champion should have been decided by the time most people have gone to bed.

Delivering gold for the Philippines on this day were gymnast Roel Ramirez who won two; the lightweight sculling pair of Alvin Amposta and Benjie Tolentino in rowing; Helen Dawa in judo; and the foil team of Ermerson Segui, Rolando Canlas Jr., Ramil Endriano and Mark Atienza in fencing. The 23-year-old Ramirez ruled the vault event with an average score of 9.2000 then passed through the eye of the needle to win the gold in the floor exercise. Actually, the native of Calamba, Laguna ended up tied with two others, Shu Wai Ng of Malaysia and Aldilla Akbar of Indonesia, who had a score of 8.450. They were each awarded the gold — believed to be a first in the SEA Games.

The Philippines had a bad day in swimming with all four swimmers — Miguel Mendoza, Ryan Arabejo, Lizza Danila and James Walsh — failing to touch their respective pads for a medal. Mendoza finished fifth and Arabejo seventh in the men’s 400-meter freestyle; Danila also placed fifth in the 100-meter backstroke; and Walsh, a Filipino-American recruit, was fourth in the 100-meter butterfly.

Regarding the controversial accusations from Thailand, Cojuangco said the referees, umpires, judges and other officials charged with the conduct of the games and events come from an international pool. "No official judges in a game in which his or her own country is participating. In conclusion, we hope that this unfortunate incident can be finally put to rest so that our national athletes can enjoy the full credits of their legitimate success in various fronts of the Southeast Asian Games," he added.

Thailand apologizes for SEAG outburst The Philippine Star 12/02/2005

Thai sports officials apologized to the Philippines yesterday for the remarks reportedly made by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra complaining about the alleged unfair officiating in the ongoing 23rd Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in Manila.

Chaiyapak Siriwat, vice president of the Thailand Olympic Council, extended his apologies to Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Jose "Peping" Cojuangco and other members of the Southeast Asian Games Federation Council (SEAGF) over the issue.

"The report was inappropriate and I feel sorry for this. On behalf of the Thailand Sports Council, I apologize for whatever inconvenience brought about by the senseless report," Siriwat told the SEAG Federation Council meeting at the Hyatt Hotel yesterday.

Siriwat neither confirmed nor denied the report, saying they are still awaiting a formal communication from the Thai premier. Siriwat said the Thai deputy prime minister will be arriving tomorrow to clarify the issue.

Thai newspaper reports had Thaksin expressing doubts about the fairness of judges officiating at the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). "I often watched these games and kept thinking ‘Why do results turn out to be that way?’ I don’t know what to say," Thaksin was quoted as saying.

Siriwat said he was surprised after being informed by Cojuangco and other SEAG members of the comments during the meeting. He said he had yet to receive any complaint of irregularities or any kind of manipulation from the Thai athletes, officials or technical groups. "As far as I’m concerned I haven’t received any complaint from the athletes," Siriwat said.

Thai sports minister Gen. Charouck Arirachakaran and Thai chief of mission Charoen Wattasin accompanied Siriwat in extending their apologies.

Philippine sports officials led by Cojuangco readily accepted their apologies.

"Our Thai friends were here even before the start of the (SEA) Games," Cojuangco pointed out. He added the Thai sports officials were also witnesses to the judging of the events. "Their continuing support will prove only that they see nothing wrong with our hosting," Cojuangco said.

POC chairman Robert Aventajado, for his part, said the issue should now be disregarded with the apologies offered by the Thai sports officials. "I think this is a non-issue considering that our Thai counterparts personally saw the whole picture and have no complaint," Aventajado said.

‘Misunderstanding’

Aventajado said the Thai sports officials believed Thaksin might have made the remarks out of a "misunderstanding."

Aventajado said the POC will consult with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) regarding the alleged complaint aired by the Thai PM. He said the issues would be handled on a diplomatic level. "At our level, we already received their apologies and they were able to explain their side," Aventajado told station dzMM.

He noted officiating of every contest is under the supervision and control of the SEAG Federation and its pool of international referees and judges drawn from participating countries and various international sports governing bodies. Aventajado clarified no Filipino referees or judges were used in any of the events in which a Filipino athlete was competing.

President Arroyo earlier ordered an investigation into questions raised by Thailand over the SEAG officiating. Mrs. Arroyo said she was concerned by remarks made by Thaksin expressing doubts over officiating in the biennial tournament, in which the Philippines is on top of the medals standings.

"I’m directing the officials of the games to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into this matter and submit an impartial report within 24 hours," Mrs. Arroyo said earlier yesterday.

Thaksin has yet to make a formal statement on the issue before the Philippine government, according to Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for ASEAN Affairs Susan Castrence.

Castrence told a news conference that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is awaiting word from the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok on whether the statement actually came from Thaksin.

"I’m not aware of any apology or statement issued by the Thai Embassy in Manila. We’re awaiting a report from the embassy as to the exact statement made by the (Thai) Prime Minister. It’s just a report based on what we read in the papers," Castrence said.

She added the DFA would reserve any comment or statement until Ambassador to Bangkok Antonio Rodriguez submits his report to the home office. "It’ll be more prudent for us to await the report from the (Philippine) Ambassador from Bangkok. Then the department would know what action to take," she said.

The DFA directed the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday to verify with the Thai government the statements attributed to Thaksin expressing doubts over the results of the SEAG.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Gilberto Asuque declined to comment further on the matter. Asuque also declined to answer questions on the possibility of the DFA summoning the Thai ambassador to explain Thaksin’s statements.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for her part, said Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo must summon the Thai ambassador to the Philippines to clarify the allegedly disparaging statements made by Thaksin.

Santiago said the insinuation of Thaksin that the Philippines cheated in the SEA Games merits an explanation considering the comments were reportedly made by a head of state. "It would not have been so bad if the remarks had been made by someone lower in the bureaucratic hierarchy. But for a head of state to make this kind of remark is highly impolitic," she said.

Santiago expressed concern that Thaksin might be revealing the truth after all.

With the Philippines currently at the top of the medal rankings, Thaksin was quoted as saying that the SEAG "will become less popular because they have put a priority for medals over athletic spirit."

‘Griping of a loser’

Santiago, meanwhile, described Thaksin’s reported statements as sounding "very much like the griping of a loser."

"Suppose my country was losing, would these same comments have been made?" she asked.

Santiago said Thaksin’s statements could cause a stir and cast aspersions on the country hosting the SEAG. Instead of issuing a general comment on the quality or integrity of the games, Santiago suggested Thai sports officials should file protests immediately to question the results of specific events. This is proper procedure, Santiago said, since it would enable fact-finding processes to take place.

Thaksin said he might raise the issue on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Malaysia later this month. Although he did not mention who might benefit from alleged poor officiating, the host country was apparently implicated.

Santiago said a discussion between the foreign ministers of Thailand and the Philippines during the ASEAN summit would be better and more diplomatic but "it was extremely unfortunate that he (Thaksin) had to unburden himself of this remark before the media." "It is so politically incorrect," Santiago added.

There is no need to demand an apology at this point, she said, but "when it is justified, that should not be excluded as an option or an alternative." "I wish that there had been more prudence about public discussion about this alleged failure or inadequacy of the host state since the Philippines is winning," Santiago said. "The procedure in world-class competitions is that when a person or a party, meaning to say a country that is represented, loses, it makes no excuses for the loss," she added.

As of yesterday, the Philippines was still leading the medal tally on the fifth day of the games, which conclude Dec. 5. The President, on the other hand, called for sobriety and prudence, and said it was everyone’s duty to be "just and fair without bias towards any country or team."

"We must treasure the solidarity and friendship among the competitors and their respective nations as a tribute to the Southeast Asian neighborhood to which we all belong," she said. She stressed that there must be lack of bias in the competition among 11 Southeast Asian countries. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Paolo Romero, Marvin Sy, AFP, AP


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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