TOKYO/MANILA – Despite protests for another postponement of the Tokyo Olympics amid persistent coronavirus cases, it still a go starting with the opening ceremonies on July 23 and until August 8, but without spectators in all games.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced last Thursday that the 2020 games, already delayed last year due to the pandemic, will proceed under a Covid-19 state of emergency.

The Philippines, for its part, is all set for the games with pole vaulter EJ Obiena and judoka Kiyomi Watanabe as the flag bearers chosen by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC)  for the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies.

The Philippines will be sending the second-biggest delegation since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The Tokyo-bound Filipino athletes aside from Obiena and Watanabe are Carlos Yulo (gymnastics), Eumir Felix Marcial (boxing), Irish Magno (boxing), Nesthy Petecio (boxing), Carlo Paalam (boxing), Hidilyn Diaz (weightlifting), Cris Nievarez (rowing), Kurt Barbosa (taekwondo), Margielyn Didal (skateboarding), Elreen Ando (weightlifting), Jayson Valdez (shooting), Juvic Pagunsan (golf), Kiyomi Watanabe (judo), Kristina Knott (athletics), Yuka Saso (golf), Bianca Pagdanganan (golf), Luke Gebbie (swimming) and Remedy Rule (swimming).

Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William Butch Ramirez disclosed that President Rodrigo Duterte has been invited to watch the Tokyo Olympics scheduled from July 23 to August 8.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic that hampered the athletes’ preparation, Ramirez said the Philippine team has a good chance to bring home an Olympic medal.

Ang Presidente, may slot doon sa IOC na inayunan ng national Olympic committee (The President has a slot from the IOC [International Olympic Committee], which was agreed upon by [Japan’s] national Olympic Committee),” Ramirez said.

He said he and PSC chief of staff Marc Velasco would fly to Tokyo as part of the delegation.

The PSC, he said, has earmarked P46.230 million to bolster the country’s medal drive in the Tokyo Olympics.

POC president and Cavite Congressman Abraham “Bembol” Tolentino said  that Obiena, the world ranked number six male pole vaulter, and Watanabe, arguably the best Filipina judoka right now, were tapped to wave the Philippine flag based on two major factors that would determine if they are free to bring the flag around the athletic oval on July 23.

“We based our selection on the availability–kung sino ang andoon na dahil ‘di tayo sabay-sabay darating doon (whoever is already there because everyone will not fly together there)–and the schedule of their games and practice,” Tolentino said.

This is not the first time Obiena and Watanabe will be carrying the Philippine flag as they were also tapped as flag bearers for the Philippine team during the 2019 Southeast Asian Games opening ceremonies at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.

Unlike the other Olympic games, however, only eight people including the flag bearers will be allowed to join the national team parade as part of the health and safety protocols amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

“Ang in-allow lang po sa parada ay anim na prime team officials (Only six prime team officials are allowed in the parade),” Tolentino said, adding that he will not join the parade.

The officials who will join Obiena and Watanabe in the opening ceremonies are Lani Velasco of swimming, Cynthia Carrion-Norton of gymnastics, Nonito Velasco of boxing, Daniel Bautista of skateboarding, Dave Carter of judo, and Nonong Araneta of football, who is tasked as the Philippine team’s chef de mission.

Carter, upon announcing Watanabe’s designation as flag bearer, said the Philippine Judo Federation (PJF) “is very much honored” that she was chosen.

Carter added that the PJF is delighted with the news because it would be a historic one.

“This is the first time that judo was made flagbearer,” Carter said in a statement.

What makes this even more special is that Watanabe is the first female judoka to qualify for the Olympics for the Philippines.

“[It’s] very fitting [since] judo now celebrates its first Pinay judo Olympian,” Carter said.