By Mark Angelo Mañez

PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer

It looks like the Philippines will be sending a huge contingent to this year’s Vietnam Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

The goal? Finish at least third overall in the medal race.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino and commissioner Ramon Fernandez of the Philippine Sports Commission announced on Friday that medalists from the 2019 staging of the biennial meet here in the country are guaranteed of slots to this year’s edition of the regional sportsfest.

“That’s the first criteria that we have set for our athletes who will compete in Vietnam,’’ said Fernandez, who was named Team Philippines chef de mission by the POC to the Games.

Based on the 2019 results, the Philippines collected 276 medals from the 40 sports which host Vietnam has calendared into its staging of the SEA Games in December this year. Fernandez said the Philippines will participate in 38 of those sports. While there is a possibility that some sports will have lesser events than those played in 2019, some of the Philippines’ medals come from team sports, meaning a single medal could represent more than one athlete, some as many as 12, like basketball.

But those medalists won’t even be the only ones getting to don the national colors in Hanoi.

“There’s a second criteria where national sports associations (NSAs) can lobby for the inclusion of athletes who they feel are capable of winning medals,’’ added Fernandez after his discussion with Tolentino at the East Ocean Palace Restaurant in Paranaque City.

According to Tolentino, the POC will give the NSAs a free hand to pick athletes who can help the country achieve its third-place target during the Nov. 21 to Dec. 2 meet.

“Apart from our SEAG medalists, the NSAs know who from among their athletes can help our cause. I’m leaving it to their sound judgment,’’ said Tolentino.

Both Fernandez and Tolentino agreed that the training of the athletes should begin soon by setting up a bubble-type environment at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila and Philsports Complex in Pasig City.

“We can now use these facilities since they are no longer being used as quarantine sites for [COVID-19] patients,’’ said Fernandez.

Team Philippines captured the overall title at home by claiming 149 gold medals, 117 silvers and 121 bronzes.

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