Philippines, 24 May 2018
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Remembering Tita Cory and the 1991 Manila Miracle

MANILA (PNA) - Today marks the 80th birth anniversary of the late former President Corazon Aquino also known as “Tita Cory” to the admiring nation. Tita Cory happened to be the most-loved Chief Executive by the Filipino athletes and sports leaders not only because she is the acknowledged “Mother of Philippine Sports”, having authored Republic Act 6847, otherwise known as the Philippine Sports Commission Law, but because she presided over what is now known as the “Manila Miracle of ’91”, the 16th Southeast Asian Games.

Besides restoring democracy, athletes and sportsmen owe her that the respect the Filipinos once enjoyed in the international sporting scenes, in terms of the performance of the host campaigners as well as in organization.

Like the creation of the PSC, the “Manila Miracle of ’91” became President Cory’s greatest legacy in the field of sports. For a little over six months after she signed the landmark legislation RA 6847 into law on July 24, 1990, the gritty Filipino athletes stood up tall against their finest rivals representing the powerhouse contingents in the region that, until only two years prior considered them as their favorite whipping boys.

For in that memorable year, known also as the “Golden Year”, the Filipino athletes, led by swimmer Eric Buhain and sprinter Lydia de Vega-Mercado, came out in one of their stirring performances that left them only a gold medal shy of toppling perennial overall champion Indonesia.

The local campaigners ended up with a total 91 gold-medal harvest to the then defending overall champions Indonesians’ 92 although years after that historic moment, unofficial reports had it that the SEA Federation stripped one Indonesian weightlifter of the gold medal she won making the 1991 hosts the co-overall champions.

The local contingent’s feat was a big jump from the 26-gold haul their predecessors brought home two years prior in 1989 in Kuala Lumpur where the Philippines dropped to a dismal fifth overall. That “Manila Miracle of 91” finish came sweeter for it, once again, showed the Filipinos’ capability to rise from one adversity to another to win and to honor a commitment.

And Tita Cory , the plain and simple housewife who took the helm of government following the peaceful EDSA Revolution of 1996, was at the forefront of all these.

The display of national courage of no less than the President, who insisted the hosting the event despite economic downtrend brought about by several natural and man made calamities that struck the whole nation the past two years before the scheduled conclave among the best the 10-nation Federation can offer. A killer quake hit most part of Luzon July of 1990, Mr. Pinatubo erupted in June of 1991 and flash floods in Leyte killed thousands two months before the Games were to commence.

It looked like the Games were doomed. Things appeared bleak, indeed. Pushing through with it was a big uncertainty as the Manila SEA Games Organizing Committee (MANSOC) was operating like headless chickens flapping around.

The brained drained “President’s Men” called for the cancellation of the Games and channel its funds for relief and rehabilitation. The President stood pat and declared the Games must go on obviously to gain ‘pogi points’ more than helping the victims.

Infrastructure requirements, which as late as two weeks before the Games’ inaugurals remained unfinished, were completed. Equipment came on the eve of competitions.

As in the first time the country hosted the biennial competition among the region’s finest athletes in 1981, the Filipinos met the deadline in scrambling fashion, dressed up the premier City of Manila and flashed the world renowned smile and hospitality to meet their guests. Who for two years running did not hide their skepticisms over the Philippines capability to come through.

And to complete the “miracle” the Filipino athletes, they who hardly enjoyed their home ground advantage due to late completion of venues and lack of equipment, responded to the call and, egged on by their countrymen, put on their strongest show ever since joining the SEA Games rank in 1977.

Yes, the Filipino was everywhere, striking gold medals on all fronts, winning in the events they were expected to and beating their rivals in sports they were not as strong as their opposition.

From the decades old Rizal Memorial swimming pool where Buhain, Akiko Thomson and their teammates reigned supreme to the track oval where De Vega-Mercado was to reclaim her crown as, not only Southeast Asia, but Asia’s Fastest Woman, to all venues where the wushu artists, the shooters, the taekwondo jins, the cyclists, the basketball players, etc. were at their best.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.

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