FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2019 - 12:00am

We nailed it on opening night.

The synergy between our athletes and our performing artists produced a show unmatched in its grandeur, scale, audacity and attention to detail. It was breathtaking. It was a spectacle that will long be remembered.

When, in a brilliant addition, our best loved athletic heroes from years past marched to deliver the Southeast Asian Games flag, many were moved to tears. It recalled those years, before politicians and pettiness colonized our athletic establishment, we were the region’s sporting power.

Perhaps these Games will mark our return to dominance.

If the result of the first day of competition, when gold medals did not trickle but poured in, is any indication, the Philippine team will overwhelm the athletic meet. Our athletes are pumped up. They are well trained. They are doing this not just for personal glory but for love of country.

The days when our athletes were undertrained and underfed are definitely over. We are setting today a new standard for how our sports program should be run.

When our sporting officials predicted, ahead of the Games, that the Philippine team will garner at least a hundred gold medals, we took their word with a large grain of salt. We have, after all, gotten used to losing. We granted our sports officials some leeway for a little exaggeration.

But, as the Games roll on, it is now granted that their prediction is a fair estimate. The high morale of our athletes is contagious. One feels it not only in the crowds that swamped the sporting events to cheer our fighters on. We feel it in the streets, where ordinary citizens go through the daily challenges with a little more spring in their step.

On the eve of the Games, the faultfinders and naysayers threatened to control the narrative. Minor lapses were exaggerated and laced with generous amounts of fake news. All of that quickly faded as the superior organizational preparation began to show. The events were moving like clockwork and the logistics system is operating well – including in that area of primordial concern for Filipinos: the quality of food.

No expense, it seems, is being spared here.

But, as they say about the best-laid plans, something is bound to disrupt. In this case, it is a typhoon called ‘Tisoy.’

Contrary to prevalent humor, the storm is not named to honor Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Organizing Committee. The list of names for tropical storms hitting the country is prepared years ahead.

We wanted a typhoon just like this one that will deliver a lot of water to our drying dams – although not on the days we are hosting the Games. But nature is like that.

The typhoon will force some sporting events, especially those held outdoors, to be rescheduled. From the excellent preparation we have seen so far, not even a storm can fluster the organizers. We are confident this force majeur will be handled with the same amount of grace the organizers have so far shown.

One decade

It is hard to believe a decade has passed since that outrageous Maguindanao Massacre.

We all remember how that happened. In my case, I was camped out at Abu Dhabi attending an international conference of journalists. My foreign colleagues in that conference learned about what happened moments ahead of me and besieged me for interviews. I was so shocked by the news, I begged for time to learn more about it.

As more details about the event streamed into my phone, I was soon ready to provide my colleagues some context and new detail.

First, I told them, nothing about the violent history of this part of the country fully explains this barbarity. It is something some power-drunk moron pulled off. It is plainly an act of insanity.

Second, a warlord clan that successfully played both government and the insurgent groups to maintain its grip on local power is almost certainly responsible for this ghastly act. There was, to be sure, a large sense of impunity that drove the killers. But that does not diminish the insanity that pulled the trigger.

Third, the national government will certainly come down hard on the perpetrators of this massacre. The early indications at that time were that government would put the entire province under martial rule. The perpetrators will take the full force of justice.

That was all that could have said at that time, just hours after an unspeakable act of brutality shocked the world. If I had a more generous gift of prescience, I might have told my colleagues to expect the judicial process to drag on for a decade.  Had I said so, I might have shocked my foreign colleagues even more.

There was great sense of distress that hung over the remainder of the conference. Journalists everywhere are all brothers. The dozens of journalists killed in that sad strip of road in Maguindanao rightly wounds everyone.

 It was hard to be Filipino at that moment, in the midst of curious colleagues wanting an explanation for why brother journalists were slaughtered wholesale. It is hard to be Filipino now when after ten years a judicial decision has yet to be rendered on such flagrant barbarism.

The judge hearing this case promised to issue a decision on December 19th. We do not expect any surprises there. Nearly all who played roles in perpetrating this massacre are behind bars or dead.

But the issuance of that decision will bring closure to gaping wounds. It will not, however, guarantee this will not happen again.

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