Gladiators by day, collaborators by night
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2019 - 12:00am

Philippine Hotel Owners Association president Arthur Lopez told me his group has reached out to Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat to inform her that hotel owners are prepared to help  in every way they can in trying to fix the accommodation problems that have been coming out regarding the Southeast Asian Games which we are hosting. PHOA is one of the largest private group of investors in the tourism industry, and after finding out about the glitches that faced the athletes and delegates from participating countries as well as our own, Arthur and his group know that they are in the best position to help assuage lodging and billeting issues compounded by transportation, food and other related concerns.

According to Arthur, Secretary Puyat was surprised that she was not even informed by the organizing committee about the preparations and the logistical requirements that were needed in hosting a major international event like the SEA Games. Wasting no time, she called for an emergency meeting with hotel industry groups to help iron out the kinks that have been emerging and ensure the success of the sporting event. 

While Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief Vince Dizon concentrated on building the sports facilities at the New Clark City like the stadium and the aquatics center, a massive international competition like the SEA Games should involve the cooperation and participation of all pertinent government agencies, and it would have been wise for the organizing committee to tap their help. 

But for now, we should all focus on taking care of our athletes and seeing to it that their needs are met. We should give them full support – financial and otherwise – to make sure that they perform their best in their respective events. They are the priority, and they should not be distressed or distracted by all these problems that have been surfacing.

Let’s face it, these problems happen, like the time when Malaysia hosted the 2017 SEA Games that was reportedly peppered with complaints, such as athletes from participating countries like Thailand whose women’s volleyball team did not have transportation when they arrived at the airport. Game schedules and venues were changed on short notice, and players also complained about the food. In fact, the 2017 SEA Games was called the worst tournament ever and was dubbed the “SEA kong” (SEA cheating) due to alleged irregularities in officiating and other issues. 

While Senate President Tito Sotto has a point in saying that we are not supposed to act like GROs (guest relations officers), we are also Filipinos, known for being hospitable and one of the friendliest people on earth. We all should uphold that kind of image especially during this time when all eyes are on us as a nation since we are the host for the biennial games. No question, we should do all that we can to make sure that the games are a success no matter what because it is the image and reputation of our country that is at stake. 

Speaker Cayetano is also right – let’s hold off all this talk about conducting an investigation regarding alleged anomalies and irregularities or whatever it is that went wrong regarding the preparations until after the games are over. Alan says he is prepared to face any investigation. Actually, Secretary Teddyboy was right in returning the P7.5 billion budget for the games that was previously included in the 2019 budget of the DFA. While the DFA could help in coordinating certain aspects of the preparations, it does not have the expertise to mount the whole operation.

People should also stop all the grandstanding and the bashing especially those who seem to find an inordinate amount of glee to see the government and ultimately the country getting embarrassed. Relax lang!

One good thing that has come out in all these is the readiness of the private sector to step up, offering their resources to mitigate the problems that have been surfacing, like this big bus company that provided new buses for transporting the athletes and a private school in Alabang that offered its facilities to be used as a practice venue for the athletes.

We have to remember that the participating countries are our neighbors in ASEAN and we are supposed to be Asian brothers working together. In fact, that’s what my ASEAN ambassador colleagues and I are doing in Washington, D.C. While we may have our own interests to uphold and have a specific agenda for our respective countries, we also move as one on many issues which we feel would be good for the regional bloc in terms of advancing our relationship with the United States. Like in any sport – gladiators by day, collaborators by night.

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President Trump says the US is set to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorists following a deadly attack on six US citizens in Mexico. According to a study by the US government, over 150,000 assault rifles and other firearms have been traced from Mexican criminals to gun shops in the US.  

President Duterte has long ago made the connection between terrorists and narcotraffickers especially with the recovery of P250 million worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) by government troops conducting clearing operations in Marawi. The Taliban has been operating drug laboratories in Afghanistan and accounts for 85 percent of opium distributed worldwide, which is why the US conducted strikes against these drug laboratories.

Clearly, our friends in Washington see the connection between drug cartels and terrorist groups which has long been in existence – something that President Duterte has been fighting against.

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