A Southeast Asian Games campaign that did Filipinos proud capped a banner year for the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
"It’s always been a team effort," said PSC chair Eric Buhain, adding "the PSC could not have done it alone. At the end of the competition, even though the Filipino athlete doesn’t get to stand on the podium to receive his medal all the time, he remained the winner in 2003."
Buhain earlier predicted the Philippines would break 40 gold medals and finish fourth in the 22nd Sea Games which Vietnam successfully hosted.
Basing his forecast on an intensive 14-month monitoring scheme conducted by the government sports agency, the PSC chief kept his faith and confidence on national athletes that they would deliver a strong performance in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and meet the country’s modest target in the biennial games.
As the smoke of the Sea Games battle cleared, 48 gold medals were thrown into the RP coffers, allowing the country to beat Malaysia for fourth by four gold medals. There were also 54 silver medals or potential golds and 75 bronze medals.
"World class," was how President Arroyo described the Filipino athletes when she received them barely a week after the Vietnam Games. For that, Buhain said, the athletes returned the favor the Chief Executive had given them through her unwavering support by doing well in the two Vietnamese cities.
"She [President Arroyo] was always behind the Filipino athlete. She is the No. 1 fan, the No. 1 motivator and the No. 1 supporter," said Buhain.
A big help also came from First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, through his First Gentleman Foundation’s Medalyang Ginto, May Laban Tayo! Project, funding a national team that went all out for the success in Vietnam.
For the year 2003, 80 percent of the PSC’s National Sports Development Fund or NSDF estimated at over P300 million was spent for various national sports associations for the training, exposure, equipment, and preparation of athletes for the SEA Games. These included athletes’ and coaches’ monthly allowances, food subsidy, billeting, medical requirements, repair of training venues, and other basic necessities.
Aside from this figure, P22 million, which was raised by the First Gentleman Foundation through the private sector, funded the training and international exposure for 85 potential gold medalists from 17 sports.
Another P100 million was for released by President Arroyo to the PSC for the RP delegation to help defray expenses incurred in actual participation in the Vietnam joust.
The government, likewise, fulfilled its promise of releasing cash incentives for the SEA Games heroes before Christmas with close to P13 million from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) disbursed by the PSC last Dec. 23.
In 2003, the government sports agency also drew support from the private sector, led by San Miguel Corp., ICTSI, Aboitiz Group, Ayala Group, PLDT, Centrum, Samsung, Air Philippines, Philtranco, and STI, in putting in place its development program for RP athletes.
The support thrown by these corporate sponsors was a shot in the arm for the PSC since the NSDF, which is basically remittances from the Pagcor, is primarily used to fund elite sports, while the Congress-approved General Appropriations Act or GAA fund, is used for national grassroots sports development programs.
The year also saw the sports body giving recognition to outstanding athletes led by World boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, bowling World Cup hero CJ Suarez and World Championships bowling trio of Liza Clutario, Liza del Rosario and Cecil Yap, and wushu world champions Arvin Ting and Rene Catalan.
But if the year that’s about to end had the SEA Games as highlight of a great season, there were also the downside like the lifetsyle check conducted on Buhain and commissioners Leon Montemayor, Ambrosio de Luna, Michael Barredo and William Ramirez.
Some key PSC officials, who worked closely under Buhain, were not spared of the lifestyle probe, a procedure that is being done on all government employees and Presidential appointees.
There were also controversies like the illegal importation of high-breed horses made through the PSC, and the on-again off-again 2003 Palarong Pambansa, the third Mindanao Games and the fifth Batang Pinoy. But except for the Luzon and Visayas Games and the Philippine National Championships that were scrapped basically because of lack of funding, all other PSC programs and projects went off the ground as expected.
Despite apprehensions on the peace and order in the region, the Palaro in Tubod, Lanao del Norte, went on smoothly while Mati in Davao Oriental pulled off a trouble-free Mindanao Games.
Puerto Princesa in Palawan also earned its place in the sporting scene in the year when it staged the Philippine National Youth Games — Batang Pinoy and the revival of the BIMP-EAGA Friendship Games.
"We have achieved our goals and did our jobs in as much as 2003 is concerned. But we have to look forward to 2005 when we host the Southeast Asian Games and to do that, we have to start work earnestly in 2004," said Buhain.