SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2019 - 12:00am

The opening ceremony was impressive, but still not free of objects of complaints: the lighting of the torch on the controversial P50-million cauldron or kaldero was not done live; neither were the fireworks.

This was confirmed yesterday by Floy Quintos, the creative director of the opening ceremonies for the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

Quintos told “The Chiefs” yesterday on Cignal TV’s One News channel that using a taped lighting of the cauldron was Plan B of the creative team. Planning for contingencies is SOP for producers of these types of shows, he stressed; there must be perfect execution, with nothing left to chance.

With the possibility of bad weather in mind, the lighting of the cauldron was taped about a week before the SEAG opening, Floy told us. The taped lighting was kept on hand. Opening day weather was fine; Typhoon Tisoy had not yet made landfall. Floy is not sure who made the final decision to use the taped version, with a TV audience in mind, and do away with a live lighting at the actual cauldron site at the New Clark City Sports Hub.

The torch lighting at the sports hub in Tarlac, which cost taxpayers P9.5 billion, was supposed to be the highlight of the opening ceremonies for the 30th SEAG. People including journalists went there to watch.

Instead the ceremonies were held at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan, with taxpayers forking out rent for the venue. The asking price was P25 million, but the government is getting a discount of about 50 percent, according to Ramon Suzara, chief operating officer of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee or Phisgoc.

So why did taxpayers spend P9.5 billion for a sports hub that is being used only for two of the sporting events in the SEAG, on top of P6 billion for the hosting? Thanks to Typhoon Tisoy, the outdoor events at New Clark City also had to be canceled.

First of all, Suzara points out, Phisgoc’s P6 billion is the budget for the entire hosting. Second, the funds – as in much of the appropriations for this year – were held up by the nearly five-month delay in the approval of the 2019 national budget by the previous Congress.

Although the country accepted the SEAG hosting in 2017, Phisgoc was formed only last year. The budget was approved only last April and released after a month to the Philippine Sports Commission, which has had about three leadership changes since 2017. About P3.5 billion of the P6-billion budget was for procurement, which required public bidding, so it was handled by the Department of Budget and Management. This process took another three months. Until September, Suzara said, Phisgoc was still procuring basic items such as furniture.

Third, just about a week before the competing teams were to start arriving, Phisgoc received word, Suzara said, that certain countries would be increasing their delegations by several dozens and even by more than a hundred. Phisgoc could not say no, he said, but they had to scramble with the arrangements for the expanded delegations.

As for the other issues – the lockdown at New Clark City on opening day, the decision to use taped fireworks, the choice of the bouncy Hotdog song “Manila” for the opening – these were all decisions of the “creatives,” Suzara said.

“These are part of the creative, unique experience of the SEA Games,” Suzara told The Chiefs in a separate interview last Monday.

He stressed that no invitations or alerts were ever issued that would have indicated that New Clark City would host any activity for the opening ceremony.

In fact people thought that because of the controversy over the most expensive kaldero in the country, it would play the starring role at the opening. Which was why photojournalists in particular went to New Clark City for the opening – only to be barred entry and told that the complex was on lockdown.

*      *      *

“People will really not be satisfied. You cannot please everyone,” Suzara said, as he lamented the brickbats Phisgoc has been receiving.

He pointed out that the company behind London’s impressive hosting of the 2012 Olympics had won the bid to put together the SEAG. Despite the wow factor in Cool Britannia’s hosting, the London Summer Games were not completely free of complaints, Suzara noted.

Floy said US-based company FiveCurrents, which handled the London Olympics (remember Daniel Craig’s James Bond meeting with the real queen of England?) had won the bidding for staging the SEAG opening ceremonies, in joint venture with Filipino firms Video Sonic and Stage Craft International Inc.

In November last year, Floy said he was contacted by Video Sonic’s Mark Miranda and Greg Garcia of another company to be the creative director of the SEAG opening.

“We had a long time to prepare,” Floy said.

They were given a free hand in the concept and execution of the ceremonies, he said. They were allotted a budget and they worked around the amount, with inclusivity and cultural sensitivities in mind.

Some ideas had to be discarded, Floy disclosed, mostly due to logistical constraints – such as the entry of the competing teams in the traditional boats of their respective countries.

And yes, they planned for contingencies, Floy said – including the possibility of the cauldron suffering a glitch during the two-hour event.

*      *      *

President Duterte was seen with his hands apparently moving to the catchy beat of the OPM ditty “Manila” as the teams marched in.

This didn’t sit well with one prominent critic, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. The President’s daughter said “Manila” did not represent the Philippines.

Floy told us that a lot of thought went into the selection of the song, which had to be lively, considering that it was for an athletic event, and something popular enough for the audience to sing along with. They wanted the ceremonies to be as inclusive as possible, he said. Folk songs were considered, but he said these are even more regionalistic. They finally settled on “Manila,” which many overseas Filipino workers can identify with, he said.

Suzara is urging people not to dwell on the negatives.

“If you’re not satisfied with the opening ceremony, that is your own opinion,” he said, and as for the continuing SEA Games, “we are day by day finding solutions.”


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