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SEA’s neighborhood games underway



IF not for the national flags they were waving, the various groups of athletes who marched onto the stage of the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, Saturday night all appeared to be one people.

The athletes were from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam, and finally Philippines. But in everything about them – in their looks, their bearing, their smiles, their enthusiasm – they were people of the same region on our planet, Southeast Asia. They were one with the thousands of Filipinos up in the stands of the stadium who had come to welcome them to this year’s Southeast Asian Games.

The people of Southeast Asia share a common understanding. They may have been divided over the centuries by colonizers from other parts of the world, so that today they have dif­ferent political systems, faiths, and social customs and practices, but they share a readiness to work together despite outward differences. Despite the varying historical events through which various colonial powers led them – the British in Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, and Brunei; the Dutch in Indonesia; the French in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia; Portugal in Timor Leste; the Spaniards and Americans in the Philippines. Only Thailand has never been under any colonial power.

This is also what makes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) such a viable working international organization. Today ASEAN reaches agreement via consensus, not by divisive voting.

It was in this same spirit of unity that the athletes of Southeast Asia met last Saturday and are now competing in carious sports today. In the words of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, in his speech at the opening of the games last Saturday, “We gather as children of God, seeking to build a better world.”

In the next few days, the 2019 Southeast Asian Games will proceed with some 9,800 ath­letes competing in 530 events in 56 sports. They will be seeking individual victories as well as collective honors for their countries. They will also be sharing the knowledge that they are all people of our part of the world – Southeast Asia.

At the start of the Games, they came in their national groups, waving their national flags, in their distinctive national costumes or team uniforms. In the coming days, they will be com­peting for individual gold, silver, and bronze medals, hoping to win as many as possible for their separate nations. All the while, they will be living and dealing with their Filipino hosts, sharing in their day-to-day experiences, including a full-blown typhoon.

At the closing ceremonies on December 11 at the New Clark City Athletic Stadium in Ca­pas, Tarlac, they will be marching as one – no longer in separate contingents – as they wave goodbye to their hosts, knowing that even as they competed with one another, they were all one in spirit in these neighborhood games with its theme “We Win as One.”