President Duterte made good on his promise to watch Gilas Pilipinas’ first match in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in front of a huge crowd cheering his name at the Mall of Asia Arena.
As if his presence weren’t enough to galvanize not only Gilas but also the crowd clad in white shirts, Duterte even went at center-court to make the ceremonial toss in one of his first public appearances since taking office last week.
The country’s 16th chief executive quietly observed from courtside alongside SM boss Hans Sy, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan, FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann, 1-Pacman party list representative Mikee Romero, and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez as Gilas controlled most of the first half.
Duterte’s presence is the first in recent memory of a Philippine president appearing in a sporting event of such magnitude.
Former President Aquino was at the same venue in 2013, sitting in a special box, when Gilas lost to Iran for the gold medal in the FIBA Asia Championship.
The SBP personally sent Duterte an invitation to watch the OQT shortly after the former Davao City mayor won the May national polls.
Though not a basketball fan, Duterte was willing to give Gilas the needed support.
He arrived shortly after the French and Philippine anthems were played amid deafening chants of “Duterte! Duterte!
Duterte!” before bowing to the audience twice as if he was about to participate in a martial arts contest.
Duterte was warmly welcomed by the Gilas starters while the French cagers also offered handshakes.
After the ceremonial toss, Duterte went to his seat, watched the game and for a while veered away from the burden of trying to find answers to the country’s myriad problems.