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Julius Man­i­cad

great mile­stone, like any jour­ney, al­ways starts with a sin­gle step.

That holds true as the host­ing of a mas­sive project such as the 30th South­east Asian Games also kicked off with a col­lab­o­ra­tion and teamwork. It be­gan with a small group of sports of­fi­cials, who vol­un­teered to do it just to make the coun­try proud.

But the coun­try isn’t sup­posed to host the bi­en­nial meet this year. Had the orig­i­nal host­ing cy­cle been fol­lowed, Manila would still take its turn in 2025 fol­low­ing Brunei in 2019, Hanoi in 2021 and Ph­nom Penh in 2023.

But dur­ing a cru­cial South­east Asian Games Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil meet­ing just a few days be­fore Sin­ga­pore hosted the 28th edi­tion of the Games in 2015, a small mir­a­cle hap­pened. Brunei Na­tional Olympic Coun­cil vice pres­i­dent Hj Muhd Zamri

Paduka Hj Ham­dani took the floor to an­nounce that his coun­try had no ca­pac­ity to host the SEA Games in 2019.

Brunei, a tiny state south of Manila, hosted the Games in 1999.

This time, how­ever, Ham­dani stressed that Bru­eni can­not build in­fra­struc­tures and fa­cil­i­ties with only four years be­fore its turn.

“It is much re­gret for us to in­form the Coun­cil to­day the news we have just re­ceived that we are with­draw­ing our host­ing for 2019,” said Ham­dani be­fore the pow­er­ful pol­icy-mak­ing body.

“The main rea­son was that we lack sports fa­cil­i­ties, ac­com­mo­da­tion and prepa­ra­tion for our ath­letes.”

The Coun­cil failed to hide its shock. Then, for­mer Philip­pine Olympic Com­mit­tee (POC) sec­re­tary gen­eral Steve Hon­tiveros raised his hand.

“I told them that if Brunei can’t do it, we can,” Hon­tiveros, a long-time of­fi­cial who has strong ties with the in­ter­na­tional sports

com­mu­nity, later said.

Thai­land, which was rep­re­sented by its Olympic com­mit­tee chief in Gen. Tuthasak Sasiprapha, shot back, say­ing that his coun­try was also ready to host the bi­en­nial meet.

The Thais have the in­fra­struc­tures and fa­cil­i­ties fol­low­ing their suc­cess­ful host­ing of the Bangkok, Chi­ang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima edi­tions of the Games.

But Hon­tiveros stood his ground. “They re­ally wanted it,” he said. “But Cong (for­mer POC pres­i­dent Jose “Peping” Co­juangco) made it clear that we have no plan of sur­ren­der­ing our host­ing. That was al­ready ours.”

Marawi siege

With the SEA Games host­ing safely tucked un­der its belt, the POC reached out to newly-elected Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte to map out a plan.

The Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, a sport afi­cionado from Davao City, got the ball rolling when he ap­pointed Sen. Juan Miguel Zu­biri to serve as the third man in a pow­er­ful panel com­posed of Co­juangco and Philip­pine Sports Com­mis­sion (PSC) chair­man Wil­liam “Butch” Ramirez.

But the road to a per­fect host­ing was lit­tered with a lot of frus­tra­tions.

Few months af­ter the three-man panel that laid down the ground­work for the SEA Games host­ing, a war in Marawi City broke out.

A group of ISIS-in­spired ter­ror­ists raided what was Min­danao’s most pros­per­ous city in an at­tempt to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic state.

With hun­dreds killed and thou­sands wounded and the en­tire Min­danao placed un­der Mar­tial Law, Pres­i­dent Duterte de­cided to with­draw from the coun­try’s SEA Games host­ing.

He had wanted to fo­cus his at­ten­tion and gov­ern­ment re­sources on the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Marawi City, in­stead.

“Due to the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Min­danao and the prob­lem in ter­ror­ism and atroc­i­ties, we re­gret to in­form you that we will no longer push through with the host­ing of the bi­en­nial event,” Ramirez said in a state­ment upon re­ceipt of or­der from the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive.

“It has been re­solved that gov­ern­ment re­sources be fo­cused on the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and re­build­ing of Min­danao, es­pe­cially Marawi City.”

The POC was crushed.

The host­ing of the Games was ap­proach­ing in the next two years and pulling out would have been a ma­jor blow not only to the coun­try, but to the en­tire SEA Games Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil as well.

Thai­land and In­done­sia im­me­di­ately ex­pressed their in­ten­tion to host. Both of them were ready.

Thai­land said it can stage a suc­cess­ful host­ing “even if the event would be held to­mor­row” while In­done­sia stressed that it is build­ing enough fa­cil­i­ties for the 18th Asian Games the fol­low­ing year. It would have been eas­ier for the In­done­sians to host a smaller event like the SEA Games.

Then, the POC had to make a tough de­ci­sion. It was ei­ther to push through with the host­ing with­out gov­ern­ment sup­port or bid good­bye to it.

Cayetano to the res­cue

With Thai­land and In­done­sia again rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of pick­ing up the host­ing, one cabi­net mem­ber vol­un­teered to save the coun­try’s host­ing of the bi­en­nial meet.

In a hastily called news con­fer­ence just two days be­fore the open­ing of the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, for­mer For­eign Af­fairs Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano an­nounced that he was tak­ing the cud­gels from Sen. Zu­biri and was join­ing co-chair­men Co­juangco and Ramirez in the newly-formed Philip­pine South­east Asian Games Or­ga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee (Phis­goc).

Cayetano said he al­ready clinched the ap­proval of the Pres­i­dent and he was to fly to Kuala Lumpur the fol­low­ing week not just to ob­serve the Malaysians’ host­ing, but also to re­ceive the SEA Games Fed­er­a­tion Coun­cil flag dur­ing the clos­ing cer­e­monies sig­ni­fy­ing the coun­try’s in­ten­tion to host.

Both the POC and PSC were elated as their of­fi­cials were re­lieved.

Un­der their orig­i­nal plan, Phis­goc was to be in-charge of the over­all or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Games while the PSC was to take care of the ath­letes’ train­ing and prepa­ra­tion. The POC was to over­see the par­tic­i­pa­tion of var­i­ous na­tional sports as­so­ci­a­tions.

Al­though a lot of trou­bles erupted along the way with Co­juangco be­ing re­placed by box­ing pres­i­dent Ricky Var­gas in a court-or­dered elec­tion and Var­gas be­ing re­placed by cy­cling boss Abra­ham “Bam­bol” To­lentino later on, the SEA Games train re­mained on track.

Sud­denly, the SEA Games host­ing that was nearly swept by a war, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, mud­sling­ing and bick­er­ing was close to re­al­ity.

Fast for­ward and the skies of Bu­la­can light up in cel­e­bra­tion and noth­ing could stop the coun­try from host­ing the big­gest – and most mem­o­rable – edi­tion of this pres­ti­gious 11-na­tion con­clave.

The gov­ern­ment al­ready spent bil­lions of pe­sos for the con­struc­tion of the sprawl­ing Clark New City and sev­eral bil­lions of pe­sos more for the fa­cil­i­ties, sports equip­ment, train­ing of ath­letes and over­all or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Games.

This is a mas­sive project – a project that Filipinos couldn’t af­ford to blow up.

And it all started with Hon­tiveros rais­ing his hand in a cru­cial meet­ing as an act of good­will, friend­ship and vol­un­teerism. And the rest fol­lowed his track.

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