THE Philippines rolled out the red carpet for its visitors and put on a dazzling welcome party to mark the return of the Southeast Asian Games to its shores on Saturday night.
A festive atmosphere marked by songs and dances welcomed close to 10,000 athletes and officials from 11 countries to the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena in Bulacan as the 30th edition of the region's biggest sports spectacle officially got underway.
President Rodrigo Duterte formally declared the meet open, with officials vowing to put on the biggest SEA Games in its long 61-year history, both in terms of sports to be staged and participation.
An unfortunate accident involving two buses carrying SEA Games delegates to the venue, and the barring of hundreds of spectators from entering the arena despite being ticket holders, failed to dampen the fiesta-like atmosphere during the elaborate two-hour ceremony.
The first opening rites to be staged indoors started and ended on a festive note, turning into a dazzling celebration of Filpino culture, both the traditional and contemporary.
The program showcased Filipino culture and tradition incorporated with modern dance and music highlighted by a tribute to the songs of the late ‘Master Rapper’ Francis Magalona.
The pace picked up the moment the 11 member countries paraded during the traditional march past of nations, with past Filipina beauty pageant winners serving as muses including former Ms. Universe Pia Wurtzbach for the Philippines.
The biggest cheers naturally was reserved to the host athletes, resplendent in their white barong tagalogs designed by Francis Libiran as they walked down the court to the bouncy tune of the Hotdog’s ‘Manila.’
Holding miniature Philippine flags, the strong Filipino delegation, numbering about 1,400, was led by flag bearers Margielyn Didal, Eumir Marcial, Meggie Ochoa, and Kiyomi Watanabe, as it cheered and waved to the crowd while acknowledging the President in the VIP booth as he stood side by side with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.
In a scene that warmed the hearts, legendary Filipino athletes Lydia De Vega, Bong Coo, Paeng Nepomuceno, Efren 'Bata' Reyes, Olympic silver medalist Mansueto Velasco, and Alvin Patrimonio, Eric Buhain, and Akiko Thomson carried with them the SEA Games Federation flag before it was to the rafters.
Softball's Francesca Altamonte and Ren Vitug of Esports led the athletes' Oath of Sportsmanship.
Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) chairman and House Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano welcomed the guests followed by Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham ‘Bambol’ Tolentino.
President Duterte then officially declared the opening of the Games.
“I declared open the Southeast Asian Games for the 30th time, celebrating the Games of Southeast Asia. Mabuhay kayong lahat,” said the Chief Executive.
Multi-awarded stage actor Robert Sena later did an revised rendition of the first-ever Metropop winning song ‘Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika,’ in a musical presentation capped by Grammy-award winner Apl de Ap’s performance of his hit ‘Bebot.’
The lighting of the 10-meter, P55 million cauldron at the New Clark City by boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and women’s world women champion Nesthy Petecio in a pre-taped event was the fitting finale to the ceremony also attended by high government officials, celebrities, and people from all walks of life.