By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter

POMP and pageantry championing Filipino pride marked the official start of the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Saturday night with the indoor opening ceremony held at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

Made history as the first opening rites of the biennial regional sporting meet held indoors, the proceedings rolled off nearly two weeks of competition that would see athletes from 11 participating nations compete in 56 sports involving 530 events.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who was joined by Brunei Sultan and Prime Minister Hassanal Bolkiah to watch the Games’ kickoff, opened the 30th edition of the SEA Games, which the country is hosting for the fourth time in history, following 1981, 1991 and 2005.

The ceremony featured a collaboration of local and international talent and an exposition of Filipino culture and contemporary music and dance.

Artists Iñigo Pascual, Elmo Magalona and KZ Tandingan sung the hits of the late “Master Rapper” Francis Magalona — “Mga Kababayan,” “Man from Manila” and “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy” — that got the local crowd inside the arena up and celebrating.

The classic track of ‘70s band Hotdog — “Manila” — meanwhile, was played as Team Philippines made its way out for the parade of nations, sending even Mr. Duterte to groove a little to the tune.

Singer Lani Misalucha’s rendition of “Lupang Hinirang” and native dances from the different regions of the country after set the tone for the hour-and-a-half ceremony.

Tony Award-winning performer Lea Salonga, who sang the SEA Games theme song “We Win As One” was not present because of a prior commitment abroad but the track was ably rendered in the ceremony by Christian Bautista, Aicelle Santos, Jed Madela, Messrs. Pascual and Magalona, Robert Sena, The TNT Boys, Ms. Tandingan, Anna Fegi, Ms. Misalucha and international Apl d Ap.

“We Win As One” was written by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab.

The ceremony also was a tribute of sorts to Filipino sports legends with Lydia de Vega (athletics), Akiko Thompson and Eric Buhain (swimming), Alvin Patrimonio (basketball), Bong Coo and Paeng Nepomuceno (bowling), Onyok Velasco (boxing) and Efren “Bata” Reyes (billiards) taking part as they carried the SEA Games Federation flag.

Capping of the proceedings was boxing legend and senator Manny Pacquiao and boxing bet Nesthy Petecio lighting the Games’ cauldron at the New Clark City sports complex in Capas, Tarlac.

During the program, House Speaker and Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee Chairman Alan Peter Cayetano and Philippine Olympic Committee President Abraham Tolentino delivered speeches, underscoring the honor that goes with hosting the SEA Games and vowing to make the Games a success despite the early hiccups it has experienced and allegations of corruption thrown the hosting’s way.

Meanwhile, Filipino athletes were looking to bag the first gold medals for the country in a number of events on Sunday.

Triathletes John Chicano and Kim Remolino were to plunge first in men’s triathlon at 6 a.m. while female counterparts Kim Mangrobang and Kim Kilgroe making a good at it at 8 a.m.

Also going for gold were the Philippines’ cycling, polo, gymnastics and arnis teams.

In his message to the Filipino athletes, Philippine Chef de Mission and Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William Ramirez underscored how he believes in their capabilities especially playing in front of their compatriots.

“We will have 11 days of competitions, and I can see the 1,496-strong Philippine contingent fighting it out with their every breath and exerting their effort to the last drop of their sweat to bring honor to this country, in front of their very own blood and flesh,” said Mr. Ramirez in a statement.

He went on to assure them that they are behind them all the way as they bring pride and honor to the country.

“As the Chef de Mission, I have been in constant communication with athletes, teams, officials, NSAs (national sports associations) to ensure that needs are met, issues are resolved and that our sincere care for the Filipino athlete are felt and shown,” he said.

The 30th SEA Games happens in four designated clusters — Clark, Subic, Metro Manila and “Other Areas,” which include Batangas, Cavite, La Union and Laguna until Dec. 11.