[PHOTO AT LEFT - PGMA FETES 'BATA' IN PALACE-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo confers the Order of Lakandula, Rank of Champion for Life, on billiard champion Efren "Bata" Reyes in ceremonies Monday (October 2) at Malacanang's Reception Hall. Reyes won the Sept. 2-10, 2006 World 8-Ball Open Championship in Reno, Nevada, USA. He also won the last leg of the Asian 9-Ball series in Jakarta. Assisting the President is Rep. Anna York Bondoc. (Marcelino Pascua-OPS-NIB Photo)]

MANILA, OCTOBER 2, 2006 (OFFICE OF THE PRESS SECRETARY, MALACANANG) She could have given the awardees a run for their money. It’s a good thing it was all for show.

In a sidelight exhibition game featuring no less than Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes and Francisco ‘Django’ Bustamante, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo surprised the country’s foremost pool players – and probably even herself—when she pocketed one of three balls lined up on the side of the table with one swift stroke to the delight of the gallery at Malacañang’s Rizal Hall this morning.

The event was a sideshow to the real McCoy – a toast to the two masters of the felt table who have given the Philippines so much pride and joy with their triumphs here and abroad.

The President had earlier awarded Reyes and Bustamante the Order of Lakandula with the rank of "Champion for Life" and the Presidential Medal of Merit, respectively, for their recent sterling performances that have brought prestige and honor to the Filipino people.

Reyes won the World Open 8-Ball Championship at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nevada last Sept. 10, besting 200 other players from around the world. He pocketed the top prize of US$500,000 (roughly P25 million), the largest prize money to be won in any billiard event.

Bustamante, on the other hand, retained his Bali, Indonesia title in the 2006 A Mild Bali International Open at the Sanur Beach Hotel in Bali last Sept. 21. He won $15,000 (about P750,000) in top purse and appearance fee.

"Congratulations!" a proud and beaming President Arroyo greeted Reyes and Bustamante during their brief call on the President before the awarding ceremonies.

The President then presented each player a "Welcome Cake for the Champions" shaped like a billiard table complete with billiard balls and cue sticks.

Prepared by the Malacañang Chefs and conceptualized by Executive Chef Aurora Austria, the medium-sized rectangular cake was made of pound cake covered in butter cream frosting.

The President, together with the billiard stars, then proceeded to the foyer fronting the Rizal Ceremonial Hall where the awarding ceremonies took place.

Reyes and Bustamante gamely smiled and posed for photographs as the President hung the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Champion for Life Medal and the Presidential Medal of Merit around their respective necks.

After the ceremony, the duo presented to the President the billiard table they and the Philippine billiard contingent used during the 1st Philippine Challenge Billiards held April 28 to 30, 1994.

The Philippine team composed of Reyes, Bustamante, Rodolfo "Boy" Luat, Jose "Amang" Parica and Leonardo "Dodong" Andam bested the USA billiard team composed of Nick Varner, Kim Davenport, Mike Siegel, Jim Rente and Johnny Archer in the first local billiards event ever to be aired on international television.

The table is special because it has a plaque etched with the Philippine team’s conquest attached to the side of the table. It was also made of solid Philippine narra hardwood expertly handcrafted by Capampangan master carpenters led by Martin Manalo, protégé of the late Don Gonzalo Puyat, the country’s first manufacturer of furniture, bowling alleys and billiard tables.

The duo then regaled the audience, composed of Office of the President employees and media practitioners, with their seemingly impossible "magic" shots that defied the very laws of physics.

President Arroyo gamely gave in to the duo’s request that she "break" the ceremonial 9-ball rack they had prepared before the start of their exhibition game, surprising the guests present with her knack for properly holding a cue stick and giving the balls a taste of Presidential billiard arm power.

The President was also asked to participate in Reyes and Bustamante’s exhibition game which not only wowed the crowds but also wowed the President herself too.

In one instance, three billiard balls were lined up on the side of the billiard table in such a way, as explained by Reyes, that when hit by a ball would cause one ball to travel to the pocket at the far end of the table.

The President got it in one stroke.

Cabinet members also present during the event, such as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Presidential Management Staff Chief Arthur Yap took turns in joining the exhibition match.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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