Philippine Olympic Committee president Ricky Vargas inspired the country’s bowlers to win gold medals in the coming Southeast Asian Games during the opening ceremony of the third Philippine International Bowling Open Saturday at the Coronado Lanes at StarMall Edsa.

The PIO, set to run until June 16, was organized by the Philippine Bowling Federation as a test event for the SEA Games later this year where nine gold medals will be up for grabs in singles, doubles, masters and four-strong team for men and women and mixed doubles.

Backed by Pagcor, the Philippine Sports Commission, Cafe Puro, Boysen Paints, Prima Pasta, the Linden Suites and MVP Sports Foundation, the PIO will showcase over 400 participants, including 150 foreign bowlers and the national team set to compete in the SEA Games later this year where nine gold medals are at stake.

“I congratulate the PBF and our bowling heroes for bringing the sport for what it is today,’’ said Ricky Vargas during the opening rites when the PBF presented the aspirants for the men’s and women’s national squad to the SEAG.

During my younger years, bowling was the number one sport that brought glory to this country. When our bowlers compete against the best of Southeast Asia in the SEA Games, this will be our shining glory. Let’s cheer them to win the gold (medal),’’ added Vargas.

Kenneth Chua, Frederick Go, Raul Miranda, Merwin Tan, Kenzo Umali, Kayle Abad, Patrick Nuqui, Paolo Valdez and Enzo Hernandez comprise the mens’ pool. Also presented during yesterday’s PIO opening were women’s pool members Liza del Rosario, Alexis Sy, Dyan Coronacion, Lara Posadas, Rachel Leon and Bea Hernandez.

“PBF is the recognized NSA (national sports association) for bowling in the country. We will witness bowling performance to the highest level throughout this tournament,’’ said PBF president Steve Robles.

Former International Bowling Federation president and long-time bowling chief Steve Hontiveros also graced the affair with top PBF officials that included PBF treasurer Alex Lim.

PBF secretary general Bong Coo said nine foreign countries have confirmed their attendance in the Open division with Australia listing three entries, Malaysia 42, Singapore 24, India one, United Emirates two, Hong Kong eight, Brunei nine, Bahrain three and Guam eight. They are also expecting Indonesia and Saudi Arabia to join the cast.

The SEAG national team of seven men and five women will be tested against the foreign opposition after returning from training camp at the International Bowling Training and Research Center of the US Bowling Congress in Arlington, Texas.

According to Coo, the trip was made possible by PBF chair Senator Tito Sotto, who shelled out P8 million for the federation.

Coo said the Philippine team will be composed of four men and four women, whose performances will be evaluated here in the PIO, the Singapore Open on June 16-30 and Hong Kong Open on July 15-20 before the final lineup for the SEA Games is finalized.

“Buhay na buhay ang bowling. I sit in the board of the MVP Sports Foundation and every year we review the sports that we support. It has come to the attention of the board to review the programs of bowling,’’ said Vargas, who came to the opener with POC communications director Ed Picson, said the POC executive board would convene on June 13.

“I want to unite everybody for the sake of Philippine sports. Let’s heal the wounds,’’ added Vargas.

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