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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, December 2, 2019
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with Matè Espina

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Trending on social media is the opening of the Southeast Asian Games which was indeed a spectacle and a proud moment for us Pinoys as one number after another showcased the best of what we have,plus the digital enhancement just hands-down made the entire thing beautiful to watch and worth sharing on social media.

Of course there were negative news as well, but these were overshadowed by the sparkle of the opening ceremonies, not in New Clark City where billions were spent, but in the INC-owned Philippine Arena, an edifice that was also embroiled in alleged corruption issues.

The closing ceremonies will be held there too, and it’s a wonder why that stadium in Clark was even built along with the P50 million cauldron that was lighted ahead of the opening by boxing champ, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, in a staged event along with spectators and fireworks, pre-taped and shown during the opening salvo.

I hope millions more were not spent in renting the arena when government already got into debt (of course to be paid for by us) in building the NCC stadium that was put on lockdown during the opening, dampening spirits of those who travelled far, thinking there will be some activities there as well.

I did not watch the entire thing and just saw snippets of it in social media. The entrance of the Philippine delegation gave me goosebumps though and it must have been amazing to be in that audience that cheered our athletes on. I must say though that they could have reduced the number of performers who sang the games’ theme song as this is one song where ‘less is more’ would have been a better version.

Among the highlights was putting the spotlight on eight world-class champs that made our country proud in the past and what a way to introduce them to the younger generation who probably have not seen them except in textbooks.

We are proud of course with the inclusion of Negrense Onyok Velasco who carried the Sea Games flag along with track and field queen Lydia de Vega, swimmers Akiko Thompson and Eric Buhain, basketball player Alvin Patrimonio, bowlers Bong Coo and Paeng Nepomuceno(so good-looking for his age) and billiards world champ Efren “Bata” Reyes.

On the side-lines, there are stories coming out of the games that are worth reading and among these is a feature story about Edison Suerti, a member of the Philippine football team and the Young Azkals, written by former Daily Star sports writer, who is now with Inquirer, Cedelf “Borgy” Tupas.

Born in Cotabato, Suerti was adopted by a Norwegian couple from a shelter in Cebu where he was dropped off when he was just 18-months old and now at 20, his dream, apart from aiming for a SEAG medal along with his team, is to meet his mother and hopes that she is proud of what he has become.

His adoptive parents were musicians who introduced him to the world of football which he fell in love with when he was 5 years old and his career flourished until he got noticed by the Azkals who invited him to join the team a few months ago.

As a member of the Philippine team, I was touched by what Suerti said when he sang our national anthem for the first time, saying he had goosebumps and though he may have been a Norwegian all his life, “something just felt natural.”

I am guilty as charged of how oftentimes we take for granted the singing of our anthem when we should take each opportunity as a proud moment, especially today when the country is very much divided.

Suerti said he has many questions to ask his parents if given a chance such as why they left him that day. But whether the answers will satisfy his need to know or not, I just wish that he really would get to meet them if only to put closure on his need to trace his roots.

Another sport sideline which had tongues wagging here in Bacolod was the re-election of Mariano “Nonong” Araneta on his third term as president of the Philippine Football Federation against Negros Occidental Football Association president Ricky Yanson by 23-12.

Araneta who admitted early on that he wanted to give up the reins of PFF to his successor was forced to run again after Ricky manifested his interest for the position to, in Araneta’s words, “keep the unity” in the football world and shield the same from the corporate battle that Ricky is entangled with his younger brother, Leo Rey, who owns the Ceres-Negros football team.

Araneta was of course backed-up by Leo Rey and Azkal’s Dan Palami. Allegedly, money flowed to ensure Ricky’s defeat and whether that’s true or not, his defeat was a big blow but I hope it will not affect NOFA which is also making waves in so far as grassroots football is concerned in our province.

Accusations have been hurled by both Araneta and Ricky in the course of the campaign but after the elections, the former extended a reconciliatory hand, which hopefully will end the bitterness and encourage everyone to move on from this for the sake of football’s growth in our country.

It’s a bit amusing to learn that the Yanson feud spilled over to the sports world but, it is what it is. The bigger question now is whether the feud will also impact our local elections come 2022. From what I’ve been hearing, it may. And just recently, I personally talked to one who is interested to challenge the powers that be come 2022 and that may well make our local elections more interesting than the PFF.*

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