PRESIDENT Aquino and boxing hero Manny Pacquiao led the VIP crowd that witnessed Gilas Pilipinas’ final match against Iran in the Fiba-Asia Championship at the Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday.
Aquino sat in one of the suites high atop the Mall of Asia Arena with sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz beside him, away from the prying eyes of the public but clapping after every big basket by the national team.
It was the first time Aquino had graced a major sports event since he assumed the presidency in 2010.
Aquino has been invited several times to attend sporting functions particularly the send-off programs for Team Philippines in the Southeast Asian Games and Olympics, but each time failed to show up.
Pacquiao, prizefighter and congressman, said the performance of Gilas on the way to clinching a place in next year's world championships in Spain was another source of pride and honor for the country.
“Kailangan para sa karangalan ng Pilipinas. Kahit malalaki pa yan,” said Pacquiao, an avid basketball enthusiast who used to own a team in a regional cage league. "Galing bawat shot."
Pacquiao wished the team the best for its coming World Cup stint.
“Good luck sa ating lahat para sa karangalan nating lahat,” said Pacquiao.
Aside from Aquino and Pacquiao, also seen at the MOA Arena were Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Bam Aquino and JV Ejercito, and celebrities led by Vic Sotto.
Signs that the President was going to the game were everywhere hours before his arrival as the Presidential Security Group had already tightened the security in and around the MOA Arena with additional measures, including bomb-sniffing dogs.