We wouldn’t have minded the Philippines’ fourth-place finish in the medal tally of the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam. Even a fifth place would have been acceptable, as the Philippines was in that rank two days before the last set of matches were played on May 22.
What was heart-breaking was the shocking defeat of Gilas Pilipinas, our men’s 5×5 basketball team, in the hands of Indonesia. The loss ended the Philippines’ 33-year reign as king of men’s basketball in the SEA Games. To put the magnitude of that heartbreaker in the proper perspective, the Philippines won 13 straight SEA Games gold medals except for the two instances—in 2005 and 2009—when the sport was not included in the roster of games.
This game should have been the Philippines’ domain for many more years.
Obviously, other nations in the region have leveled up. Perhaps inspired by what we have done, they beefed up their coaching staff with foreigners: Host Vietnam, for example, hired American Kevin Yurkus as coach. Eventual gold medalist Indonesia engaged the services of Serbians Milos Peric as coach and Rajko Toroman as its team’s technical director (the same Toroman who handled the Philippines’ basketball program from 2009 to 2011).
Like the Philippines, other nations in the region have upgraded and strengthened their lineups with naturalized players.
Indonesia is bannered by 6’10 Marques Bolden, a former player of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, and 6’4 Brandon Jawato, who played in the University of Hawaii’s NCAA before joining Japan’s B.League. Thailand, which nearly beat the Philippines in Game 1, has four players with American heritage: Moses Morgan, Fred Lish, Jeremy Morgan and Antonio Price Soonthornchote. They were all NBA-eligible before they were drafted elsewhere.
Golds in other sports
But not getting that most important basketball gold should not dim the fact that the Philippines did great in other sports.
Filipino boxers Rogen Ladon (men’s 52kg class), Ian Clark Bautista (men’s 57kg class), and Olympic bronze medalist Eumir Marcial (men’s middleweight) delivered the country’s last three gold-medal wins.
And before the Vietnam edition officially wrapped up, Phillip Delarmino was declared the rightful owner of the Muay Thai gold in the men’s 57kg event. It was the country’s 52nd, the Muaythai Association of the Philippines having successfully lodged a protest.
All told, fourth-place Philippines amassed 52 gold medals, 70 silvers and 104 bronzes.
Vietnam was overall champion, with 205 golds, 125 silvers and 116 bronzes. Thailand placed second (92-103-136) and Indonesia was third (69-91-81), a finish made much sweeter by its first ever gold in men’s basketball. Singapore was fifth (47-46-73).
It is fervently hoped that Gilas Pilipinas will redeem itself in the 32nd SEA Games scheduled in Cambodia in May 2023. Before then, a number of urgent tasks need attention.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, or its equivalent in the future, must put an end to its seemingly haphazard and last-minute decision-making that led to the constant revision of lockdown rules. This severely affected local athletes both in terms of their training and participation in international competitions.
Another urgent task is to continue our athletes’ exposure to higher levels of competition through increased participation in international events. This is why the likes of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, and gymnast Carlos Yulo were able to breeze past their SEA Games opponents.
Support should pour in for the next generation of Filipino athletes, including archers Pia Elizabeth Bidaure, 20, Gabrielle Monica Bidaure, 18, and Phoebe Amistoso, 20, who gave the Philippine archery team its first gold medal. There’s also weightlifter Vanessa Sarno, 18, who dominated the 71kg category while also shattering the SEA Games records in snatch, clean and jerk, and total lift.
And let us not forget to groom more athletes in sports where Filipinos can dominate.
In billiards, for example, Johann Chua toppled compatriot Carlo Biado, 9-6, to win the gold in the men’s 9-ball singles final. Three days later, Biado got back at Chua, 9-3, to snatch the men’s 10-ball singles gold medal. In the women’s 10-ball singles, Rubilen Amit bested Chezka Centeno in another all-Filipino title showdown. Amit likewise bagged the women’s 9-ball singles gold.
In e-sports, the Philippines got a pair of golds courtesy of Blacklist International in the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and GrindSky Eris in the Wild Rift, women’s team.
As for the Philippines’ basketball program (or other team sports, for that matter), what happened in Hanoi should remind us that it’s time we as a nation began planning how to structure our youth basketball program towards a goal best for the young athletes, and not for the companies that immediately hire them to play in the pro league.