By Xu Lingui, Liu Hua
MANILA, Aug. 6 (Xinhua) -- Although the government and the private sector in the Philippines have hiked cash incentive for the country's first Olympic gold to a stunning high, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday said the Olympic gold any Filipino athlete would bring home is priceless and goes far beyond the value of any reward.
"The main incentive is the athletes' determination and desire to be successful for themselves and for the country. That is the most important incentive," Arroyo said. "No amount of incentive could substitute the pride the gold-winning athlete would get for himself or herself and for the Filipino people."
In an exclusive interview with Manila-based Chinese reporters in Malacanang, the presidential palace, Arroyo said while it is true that the Philippines has yet won a gold in Olympics, as far as she is concerned the 15 athletes are already winners even before their first event in Beijing.
The Southeast Asian country is sending a squad of 15 athletes to Beijing this month to compete in boxing, taekwondo, shooting, archery, diving, swimming, athletics and weight-lifting. Boxer Harry Tanamor and taekwondist Mary Antoinette Rivero are considered the archipelago's best chances to bag a medal, if not a gold.
So far, the government, companies, business tycoons and various groups have pledged a combined sum of 15 million pesos (340,909 U.S. dollars) for any Beijing-bound Filipino athlete who gets a gold medal. According to Chinese media reports, the Philippine gold incentive for the Beijing Olympics ranked in the top five among countries that are going to offer cash rewards for an Olympic gold.
The Philippines has not yet won an Olympic gold during its participation in the Games since 1924. The most recent medal was a silver in boxing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Arroyo said no matter what will be the outcomes the Philippine athletes going to China are already "champions in the hearts and minds of all Filipino people."
"Obviously, they are the role models for our next generations. We are proud of them," Arroyo said.
By attending the opening of the Olympics as the first Philippine president in history to do so, she would like to be there to cheer the athletes up and to just let them know that they do represent the country well, she said.
"And besides, Filipinos love sports," the energetic-looking president in her 60s said she still does many sports including golfing and diving. While she is a boxing fan as virtually every other Filipino, Arroyo said she would like to watch on television all the sports the Philippine athletes compete in order to give them encouragement.
Tshomlee Go, the Filipino taekwondist to compete in the men's 58 kg category, told Xinhua he felt "great" about the president's attendance of the opening of the Games. "It's great and it keeps our morale high," he said.
Arroyo said the Olympics is a every-four-year occasion that brings the world together to celebrate the human spirits and to set aside conflicts and disputes. "We can show the power of sports and to promote peace and harmony through sports," the president said.
Monico Puentevella, the Philippine Olympic Committee First Vice-President, told Xinhua in a previous interview that achievement by Philippine athletes in the Olympics would be a timely lift-up in the spirits of Philippine people, who are suffering the double blows of economic slowdown and record-high inflation.
"A medal of any color will do. We really need this," Puentevella said.
Arroyo said she has confidence that most of the objectives set up seven years ago for China as an Olympic Games host country will be met and she is looking forward to see the spectacular facilities, exciting games, among a series of things that come as the result of China's seven-year preparation.
Before she attends the opening of Olympics on Friday night, Arroyo is also expected to hold bilateral talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other heads of the states who are also in town for the Olympics opening.
The President's Office said economic cooperation and mutual investment would be a priority in Arroyo's meetings with foreign country heads and she will also meet with businessmen in China to discuss investment opportunities.
Despite the controversy over a Chinese company-contracted railway project in the Philippines, Arroyo said she considers China a "very important" partner to the Philippines and the two neighboring countries' relationship is so strong that it "won't be affected by any single issue."
"I believe both of us have realized it is in our best interest to continue the stable relationship with each other." Arroyo said she would not swerve from cultivating a stronger Philippine-China relationship and deepened cooperation in the remaining two years of her term as the country's chief.
According to the schedule, Arroyo will take an early flight on Thursday morning to China's southwestern province of Sichuan to visit cities devastated by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake in May, killing nearly 70,000 people.
Arroyo said she would console survivors and families of the quake victims and ask what assistance the Philippines can provide besides the humanitarian materials that have been sent there.
"I think this is a good opportunity for the Philippines and China to work together and cooperate together," Arroyo said.