MANILA, December 13, 2005 
(STAR) For the first time in its 56-year history, the Philippine Sportswriters Association will confer its highest honor, the Athlete of the Year Award, to not one or two individuals, but collectively to the entire Team Philippines ó numbering more than 700 ó for emerging overall champion in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games.

Sheila Mae Perez, divingís triple gold medalist, will represent the Filipino athletes who dethroned Vietnam, the 2003 winner, during the Awards Night scheduled Jan. 14 at the Manila Pavilion.

Joining Perez onstage are First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Team RP chef de mission; Jose "Peping" Cojuangco Jr., president of the Philippine Olympic Committee; and William "Butch" Ramirez, chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission.

"For winning the championship for the very first time despite the tough odds, the sportswriters have unanimously chosen team Philippines as its Athlete of the Year," said PSA president Jimmy Cantor of Malaya.

"The athletes and officials who made up the national team richly deserve this honor and for that the association will fete them in simple but meaningful rites in a few weeks," he added.

President Arroyo has been invited to be the guest of honor.

Hosting the biennial meet for the third time since becoming its fifth member in 1977, the Philippines, which came breathtakingly close to beating Indonesia for the overall championship during the Manila staging in 1991, won 113 gold medals, 84 silvers and 94 bronzes, more than double its haul of 49-55-75 in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City two years ago.

A 20-gold binge on Day Two, highlighted by Perezís exploits on the springboard events at the Trace Aquatic Center in Los BaŮos, Laguna, gave the host an early advantage, which Vietnam and Thailand failed to overcome.

During an eight-day period, Team RP galvanized the whole country as local athletes post stirring conquests in practically all fronts, including Miguel Molina in swimming, Benjie Tolentino in rowing, Arvin Ting and Willy Wang in wushu, Cecil Mamiit in tennis, Ronnie Alcano in billiards, and SEA Games record-breakers Henry Dagmil and Arniel Ferrera in athletics.

Wushu delivered 11 gold medals, the most by any discipline. Athletics had nine, as with aquatics (diving and swimming); billiards and snooker, and boxing eight each; taekwondo and traditional boat race with six apiece; fencing and wrestling five each; judo and bowling both with four; archery, arnis, karatedo, muay, rowing, shooting and tennis three each; bodybuilding, cycling, dancesport, golf and softball two apiece; and baseball, equestrian, lawnbowls, pencak silat and sailing one gold each.

The PSA, established in 1949, is the oldest media group in the country and has a present membership of about 100 sportswriters from leading broadsheets and tabloids.

Pacquiao: I bet my life Iíll win The Philippine Star 12/13/2005

There will be no birthday or Christmas celebrations for Manny Pacquiao. Only an honest-to-goodness training for what could be the defining moment of his boxing career.

Pacquiao has stepped up his preparations for his keenly-awaited rematch with former three-time world champion Erik Morales on Jan. 21 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, vowing to avenge his loss to the Mexican fighter early this year.

Although the Filipino southpaw has recovered from that bitter defeat with a sweet victory over Hector Velazquez last September, the setback to Morales still hounds Pacquiao to this day.

In fact, he took exception to the latest tirades of his rivalís camp, telling his trainer Freddie Roach and promoter Gary Shaw "not to make excuses for his loss (to Morales) last March 19" and for Pacquiao to "accept defeat like a man."

"I am angry over what they said. I admit I lost," said Pacquiao in an interview with Viva Sports.

However, Pacquiao said it was not the same Manny Pacquiao when he fought Morales the first time, adding: "I was not one 100 percent. I took him lightly. I need to change some things."

This time around, Pacquiao said he will have no distractions and will not celebrate his birthday on Dec. 17 or even Christmas, saying "I want to have a total celebration on Jan. 21" after the fight with Morales.

"I will bet my life that I will win," Pacquiao said.

Told that the Las Vegas odds had him as a favorite, Pacquiao shrugged it off, saying: "I donít worry about the odds. Iím just focused on the fight. I trained for two weeks in Cebu but this (Wild Card gym in LA) is where my heavy training is. I will not predict in which round he will fall. But I will do all I can in the ring, knockout or not."

Team Pacquiao had repeatedly claimed that distractions outside the ring cost Pacquiao the fight, including the quarrel over the gloves, ticket allocations, room assignments and a bitter difference with former promoter Murad Muhammad. This angered the Morales camp, which claimed Morales beat Pacquiao the first time and he will do it again.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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