Filipino paddlers won a bronze medal at the start of the 26th Southeast Asian Games traditional boat (dragon boat) races but had a similar medal washed away under fishy circumstances by the chief Malaysian official of the event at the Cipule Lake here Saturday.
Ranged against traditional powerhouses Myanmar and Indonesia, the Philippines held the lead until the Burmese and the Indonesians surged past the Filipinos in the last 350 meters to check in first and second, respectively, in the men’s 1000-meter 22-crew finals.
The nationals checked in with a time of four minutes and .02 seconds to bag the bronze while Myanmar took the gold (4:00.58) and Indonesia silver (4:00.75).
In the women’s 1000-meter 12-crew, the Filipinas finished fourth (5:08.24) in the event won by Myanmar (5:03.77).
But the joy of the bronze medal triumph in the men’s 22-crew was overshadowed by the grief of the Philippine camp when it belatedly learned that its team in the men’s 1000-meter 12-crew, which finished a clear third in the race, had been disqualified.
Malasian chief official Lim Tay Hean made the decision after ruling that the Filipinos had fielded wrong entries – Norwell Cajes and Dany Funelas – in the event, who were not part of the original list that had been submitted.
This raised a howl from head coach Len Escollante, herself an internationally-accredited dragon boat official, because both Cajes and Funelas, who replaced Florence Caro and Benedicto Zafra, respectively, in the roster had been cleared to race by Singaporean boat committee chairman Mohammad bin Azcol before the start of the race.
When interviewed, Azcol confirmed he had given the go-signal for the two Pinoy entries to compete – not once but twice.
“If both Cajes and Funelas were ineligible then we would have stuck with our original lineup, but they were allowed to race by the boat committee chairman,” Escollante said. “Parang paano ka makakasakay sa bus kung wala kang ticket?”
She also pointed out that not one among the four other teams – the other being Singapore and Cambodia – had questioned the outcome of the competition.
Hean stood pat on his decision and then verbally instructed the Filipinos to file a formal protest, which they did, with Philippine West Java secretariat chief Jay Adalem, who witnessed the race, paying the $250 protest fee from his own pocket.
Hean then rubbed salt on the protesters’ wounds when he said that he would not honor the protest on a technicality: it was done past the 20-minute deadline to do so after the race ended. The event finished at 11:25 and the recorded time the protest form was received was 12:46, an hour and 21 minutes past the stated deadline.
The Malaysian’s action angered Adalem’s deputy, Roger Fortaleza, a former national amateur boxing standout, who raised his voice against Hean until cooler heads pacified him.
“What the Malaysian official did was not only unethical did but only made us look foolish,” Adalem said. “Because he himself told us to file the protest only to tell us that the time had been lapsed.”
Hean later advised that the Filipinos, who refused to take back the $250 protest fee, to raise the matter with the event’s jury of appeals.
PCKF secretary general Jonne Go told her athletes to forget about the issue and focus on Sunday’s matches where they will be vying in the men’s and women’s 500-meter 12-crew and men’s 1,000-meter 22-crew finals.
“Based on what I saw today, we could have even better chances in the short distances,” she said.