SEA Games ceasefire urged
Photo shows the Philippine flag that will be lit up with LED lights on stage at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan during the opening ceremony of the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Nov. 30.
Michael Varcas

SEA Games ceasefire urged

by Paolo Romero And Jess Diaz, Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Once athletes start arriving for the Southeast Asian Games on Nov. 30, there ought to be a ceasefire on the bickering over the country’s hosting of the biennial event, a senator said yesterday.

As host country for the 30th SEA Games, Sen. Sonny Angara said the entire nation must be united and show its neighbors “what the world-famous Filipino hospitality is all about.”

“This is about the hosting of the Games – we must concentrate on that. Our athletes could become distracted if there are many issues. They should be focused only on their competitions,” the senator said.

A week before the SEA Games, some event venues are still being completed, with the construction being rushed before the opening, the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) admitted yesterday.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, PHISGOC chairman, said while work on the venues was being rushed, the public and stakeholders could rest assured that no event would be cancelled or suspended.

Angara, who chairs the Senate finance committee, said the necessary audit into the expenses for the Games, including the construction of the facilities, would be done as part of the regular processes of the government.

“All these things will pass through auditing by the
Commission on Audit – its work is to find out whether agencies spent funds prudently,” he said.

Based on information provided by the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), he said the sports facilities constructed for the SEA Games would eventually make money for the government, which was estimated at a minimum of P100 million annually. 

BCDA president Vince Dizon has informed Angara the maintenance of the sports facilities would cost an estimated P188 million a year, and this would be done by the private sector.

The BCDA has stated that as early as now, three local real estate developers have expressed interest in undertaking the maintenance of the facilities.

The SEA Games will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and will be held at different venues including the New Clark City in Tarlac, Subic Bay Freeport and Metro Manila. 

According to the Philippine Sports Commission, the Philippines will be having the largest delegation in the 30th SEA Games with 1,115 athletes and 753 coaches.

Sen. Pia Cayetano defended her brother, who she said took on the job as PHISGOC chair when he was still foreign affairs secretary even if he did not have to. 

“But he did accept because he believed that our athletes should have a chance to shine in our own country and the SEA Games,” the senator said.

She pointed out Cayetano voluntarily appeared before the Senate – “something which any Speaker of the House has never done before” – and set aside protocol as he believed it was more important to shed light on the credibility of the SEA Games preparation.

The senator cited the BCDA’s accomplishment in completing a world-class sports stadium in New Clark City. It has a competition track oval with bleachers around it.  

“When we first brought the national track team there, I ran with them. Some of them were crying and saying that they never dreamed of seeing something like this ever built for them. The Rizal Memorial Stadium is 84 years old!” Cayetano said.

Rushing completion

“In Subic, Tagaytay and Rizal Coliseum (in Manila), they are rushing, but they have promised that it will be done before the opening (on Nov. 30),” Speaker Cayetano told reporters yesterday.

“Just in case there would be problems – you know we can’t tell the future – we have contingency plans. So we will not stop the games. But these were problems all brought about by two things: one, the delayed enactment of the 2019 budget (which included P5 billion for SEA Games preparations) and the P2.5-billion funding reduction (by the Senate),” he said.

He said everyone involved in preparing the venues, particularly the Philippine Sports Commission, “did the best they could do, but we would have preferred that just like in Clark, the facilities should have been finished in September so that the athletes could have practiced.”

“But it is what it is and I’m hoping all these would be done this week,” he said.

Cayetano did not say what contingency plans have been prepared.

As for the Philippine sports teams, he said they are “100 percent prepared.”

 “We have to give them credit, even if our support is not 100 percent – like in giving them their allowance – they found a way to train. So as far as our athletes and the medal count are concerned, I am very confident. We just pray for them, no injuries, and that they will be at their best,” he said.

Villar mall as venue

He lamented how some sectors have also injected politics in the choice of some venues, such as that for bowling in Starmall in Mandaluyong City.

The family of former senator and billionaire businessman Manuel Villar Jr., president of the Nacionalista Party to which Cayetano is affiliated, owns the mall.

“So I asked Sec. Mark Villar (of public works, Villar’s son), he didn’t even know that there is bowling in Starmall. And so, I had my staff check, it’s the POC (Philippine Olympic Committee) and the competition managers who scout all of these because they have to make sure that the international federation will say yes,” he said.

Cayetano said POC found bowling alleys in Starmall that are owned by Puyat Sports, not the Villars who own the mall.

“Puyat Sports is one of the gold standards if not the gold standard (in bowling). So, that’s an example of pure politics, of trying to find issues,” he said.

He said organizers are also making sure that internet connection would work efficiently during the regional sports competition.

“In Malaysia, they had a problem with the internet for a day or two, but that’s one of the reasons why the cost is high, because broadcast is still king, whether it’s radio, TV or through the internet, social media or digital format. We’re working closely with one of our major sponsors, PLDT, to make sure that we have very good internet access not just for the media but also for the athletes and spectators,” he added. 

Another congressman, Jericho Nograles of party-list Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta, said the bowling alley at Starmall is “accredited by the International Bowling Federation.”

“Our Philippine team trains there. The facilities in other areas are only for recreation, not for competition. Let us not see politics where there is none,” he said.


 ‘Raise athlete incentives’


Meanwhile, Sen. Lito Lapid has filed a bill seeking to provide free insurance coverage for all professional Filipino athletes who are competing in international sports competitions.

He said it was only fair for the state to provide its athletes with insurance protection, especially those representing the Philippines in sports contests both here and abroad. 

Under Senate Bill 1152, or the proposed the “Professional Filipino Athletes Insurance Benefits Act,” the state shall provide insurance benefits that shall cover medical expenses, travel insurance, death benefits, among others, to professional Filipino athletes competing in any international professional sports competition or in other equally prestigious world championship games, in both individual and team events.

Dasmariñas, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr., meanwhile, also urged officials to refocus their attention to the welfare of athletes.

The senior lawmaker, a sports advocate, lamented the proposed incentives for medalists in the SEA Games – P300,000 for gold medalists, P150,000 for silver medalists and P60,000 for bronze medalists – are “small” and “insufficient,” especially if compared to Asian Games winners who are given P2 million for gold medalists, P1 million for silver medalists and P400,000 for bronze medalists; and to Olympic medalists who shall receive P10 million for gold, P5 million for silver and P2 million for bronze.

Barzaga suggested that gold medalists in SEA Games be instead given P1 million; silver medalists P500,000 and bronze medalists P300,000. 

“Should the present funds for incentives be insufficient, then there should be a realignment in the proposed budget for 2020 to cover the said increase in the incentives. After all, our Filipino athletes should be properly rewarded,” he argued.

The lawmaker believed that such increase in incentives for winning athletes should not be an issue, considering that the New Clark City facilities cost P9.5 billion to build and P7.5 billion was allotted for hosting the games.

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