2019 SEA Games opening ceremony (File photo)

MANILA – Vietnam is putting up a hard-to-beat stance a month before it opens the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, but Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino is unfazed saying Filipino athletes will be a “fighting team” in the May 12 to 23 games.

“Our athletes will fight and will do their best to bring the overall championship back to the country,” said Tolentino from Cambodia where the SEA Games Council met face-to-face for the second time this year to discuss both the Vietnam and 2023 Cambodia SEA Games.

As host, Vietnam will be fielding the biggest number of athletes at 965 -- 534 men and 431 women -- with a bold prediction of winning 140 gold, 77 silver and 71 bronze medals, according to reports by Hanoi media.

Vietnam programmed 40 sports with 526 events -- only five less than those in the 2019 Games with the Philippines as host.

Tolentino said he is confident that Filipino athletes will deliver because majority of the 656-strong Team Philippines clinched medals in 2019 when the country dominated with a 149-117-121 gold-silver-bronze haul.

Vietnam sent a strong message with its second-ranked overall 98-85-105 tally in 2019 that it intends to also dominate the Games it is hosting only for the second time since 2003.

The POC, Tolentino said, will release the composition of Team Philippines this week.

“Preparations by our athletes are peaking and the national sports associations, just like the POC, are focused at keeping the country’s strong position in the Games,” he said.

Tolentino deferred predicting the country’s potential haul in Vietnam though.

The Philippines fielded 1,115 athletes in 2019, a privilege for being host, with Thailand sending the second-biggest delegation with 980, followed by Vietnam with 856 and Indonesia with 837.

Team Philippines will leave in batches for Vietnam with the main bulk expected to fly to Hanoi on May 10. (PR)