Speaking at the 44th National Prayer Breakfast Anniversary in San Juan City yesterday, the embattled head of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) said he would address allegations and criticisms right after the country’s hosting of the biennial event.
The STAR/FIle
Cayetano: Hold me accountable after SEAG
Christina Mendez, Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2019 - 12:00am

No sacred cows; Rody may tap retired COA auditors

MANILA, Philippines —  As the nation keeps its fingers crossed for an embarrassment-free opening of the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) tomorrow, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has vowed to face investigation for possible corruption that may explain the blunders that marred the arrival of foreign athletes.

Speaking at the 44th National Prayer Breakfast Anniversary in San Juan City yesterday, the embattled head of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) said he would address allegations and criticisms right after the country’s hosting of the biennial event.

“(Come) Dec. 12, hold me accountable; hold the SEAG organizing committee accountable. I will not hide. I will face the Senate and the ombudsman,” Cayetano said.

“But allow us to have successful games. After the SEAG, you can do any investigation,” he added.

President Duterte said last night that he might tap retired auditors of the Commission on Audit to
 assist in the investigation, which will be conducted by the Office of the President.

Malacañang said it is open to multiple probes on the issue by independent parties, stressing “there are no sacred cows in this government.”

Senators have expressed their intention to investigate the matter, which has become a national embarrassment.

Cayetano insisted there is no corruption in the use of the P6-billion fund for the hosting of SEAG, denying insinuations from Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon.

“I’m willing to do a lie detector test, for the three of us. I can look them in the eye and say I did not pocket a single centavo... We even had to shell out our own money,” Cayetano maintained.

Drilon was questioning the P55-million cauldron to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies while Lacson had likened the P1.5-billion government fund given to PHISGOC – a private entity – to the pork barrel scheme of Janet Lim-Napoles.

Cayetano earlier blamed the Senate for the reported blunders, including unfinished construction of venues, saying they could have been avoided had the Senate approved the budget for the sports event.

“It was Senator Drilon who moved the budget of the SEA Games to the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) and it was Senator Drilon who proposed cutting it by 33 percent only a few months before to P2.5 million but he has been leading the criticism,” he said.

Deputy Speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero supported Cayetano’s allegations.

Romero attributed the logistical issues in the country’s hosting of the SEAG to the delay in passage of the 2019 budget, which President Duterte signed only in April.

“Unfortunately the Senate had a lot of problems and the budget was delayed by five to six months. Lahat ito This was all caused by that delay. Sen. Drilon is also partly to blame probably because the delay was caused on their side, not on the House side,” Romero stressed in an interview.

Media ‘bribery’

Cayetano also branded as “fake news” reports of complaints from several athletes and coaches regarding food and hotel accommodation.

The House leader said he was informed about an “operation” that intentionally spreads “fake news” regarding the SEAG hosting.

“The intention was to get us reacting instead of organizing,” he claimed.

Cayetano revealed that there was even an attempt to bribe media outlets for publication of false information, including alleged desecration of the Philippine flag.

“We have our own analytics and our own metrics system, and that’s available to you, it was only four or five websites that repeatedly came up with these fake news,” he bared.

“Even some media outfits admitted that there is overflowing cash to destroy the SEAG. I don’t know (how much) because these were just told to me by close friends and they told me it’s good nobody accepted it since this is for the country,” he alleged.

Cayetano lamented how the public met the games with criticism when the people should be supporting the athletes instead and help make the event a success.

“If we can come together with these other countries and find a way to work and be one, why can’t we Filipinos do it? There are so many good stories,” he pointed out.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), meanwhile, denounced remarks by SEAG organizers partly blaming the media for the flurry of negative reports on logistical issues that were raised publicly by Philippine and Southeast Asian athletes and officials themselves.?“Independent journalists report problems and issues imbued with public interest as they happen and become evident and do not delay the time to press for accountability. We report defeats and victories, failures and triumphs,” FOCAP said in a statement issued yesterday.?The journalists’ group specially took exception to insinuations by Cayetano that there may have been attempts to bribe the media to malign the Philippines’ hosting of the Games.

“Such sweeping accusations, without a shred of evidence and laced with threats of libel suits, are totally unacceptable and tend to intimidate journalists from reporting irregularities objectively,” FOCAP said.?It said calls by the organizers for media to report only the good news “betray our bedrock mandate of providing the public with truthful information that is at the heart of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Cayetano’s House colleagues have already begun investigating allegations of “fake news” meant to discredit the country’s hosting of the event.

Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo, chair of the committee on public information, said they will conduct a legislative inquiry into the spread of fake news.

In a privilege speech last Wednesday, Salo said that false reports undermined the country’s efforts to ensure a successful hosting of the biennial sports event.

Salo particularly mentioned the kikiam supposedly given to the Philippine women’s football team for breakfast when in fact it was chicken sausage, and the supposed photo of the Biñan Sports Complex still being constructed when it was actually a different picture.

“As a result of these fake news, the Philippines is painted as a complete failure in its hosting, with foreign media calling it ‘Muddle in Manila,’” the lawmaker lamented.   

No apologies

Another lawmaker said there is no need for the Philippines to apologize to its ASEAN neighbors for the blunders in the SEAG.

Deputy Speaker Dan Fernandez explained that the country and games organizers have done their “utmost best” to achieve the goal of the sports meet, which is “to promote cooperation, understanding and better relations” among Southeast Asian nations. 

“Are we as Filipinos going to allow purveyors of fake news, grossly exaggerated reports and political spite win a gold medal for national destruction? We must not!” said Fernandez.

The representative from Laguna rallied Filipinos to instead wage war against bogus news and political malice by “simply ignoring their messages of hate and spite.”

He pointed out that Cayetano and PHISGOC have taken sincere and swift steps to address complaints initially aired by participating teams.

For Sen. Joel Villanueva, “timing is very crucial” in raising criticism of the country’s “flawed” hosting of SEAG.

“We admit that there are lapses. Nobody’s perfect. I think, the timing… We should not be talking about it, not talking much about it because there is always time for everything,” Villanueva told reporters in an ambush interview in Pasay City Wednesday.

“I think all of us are aware there should be accountability. It is just that there is a time for it,” he added. He said the focus at present should be to rally behind Filipino athletes.

“Senate has an oversight function, so those behind the flaws, especially the government officials, will be held liable. That is important. But, it is also important that this time, we do not want to talk about it,” he said.

Ignore rapaciousness

While convinced that an investigation is in order, detained opposition Sen. Leila de Lima is appealing for sobriety to ensure the country’s successful hosting of SEAG.

She said the public should try to separate “the government’s rapaciousness and incompetence” from the need for the country to ensure a hassle-free hosting of the event.

“Despite their corruption, the brightest stars of the Philippine political universe still cannot take away from us our spirit as a nation and our graciousness as hosts,” she said, apparently referring to President Duterte’s description of himself and two allies – Cayetano and Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go.

“Let’s not mind at the moment the plunderers and good-for-nothing officials of Duterte who are using this occasion to fatten their wallets. There’s nothing more we can do about their shamelessness, but we can still rise from this shame as Filipinos,” she added in Filipino.

PHISGOC, represented by chief operating officer Tats Suzara, and the Philippine Olympic Committee, led by president and Rep. Bambol Tolentino, slammed critics yesterday at a press briefing and urged the media to focus instead on the athletes and the event itself.

“We agree that during the inquiry, we should be investigating too the proliferation of fake news a few days before the opening ceremony, which has put the organizing committee, the Games and the country in a bad light,” said PHISGOC in a statement.

“For now, we call on all Filipinos to stand together as one nation, one Team Philippines. Only in unity can we truly say that We Win As One!” it added.

Panelo, meanwhile, said the President would be forming a committee purposely to look into any allegations of fund misuse and inefficiency.

“The Office of the President will also be conducting a separate probe on the aberrations and irregularities in the administration of our country’s hosting of the SEAG immediately after the games,” Panelo said.

“They said in Congress, they would investigate. They can include that complaint lodged,” he said, referring to Lacson’s allegations. “Any complaint lodged in the Office of the President vis-à-vis any matter concerning the SEA Games will be subject for scrutiny,” he said.

Panelo also urge the public to stop unnecessary remarks that may further aggravate the situation. 

ALAN PETER CAYETANO
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