‘Kaldero ng Diyos’
What kind of sorcery is this, that scarce taxpayer money was spent on a P56-million cauldron-type structure at the New Clark City that would be lit only once during the upcoming 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games?
“This is one expensive cauldron,” said an aghast Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon. The amount, he pointed out, was already equivalent to 50 badly needed public school classrooms.
It was not clear if any bidding for the design and construction of what netizens derided as the “kaldero ng Diyos” was conducted, according to Drilon. But as it stands, the design alone by the late architect and National Artist Francisco Mañosa was pegged at P4.48 million, the foundation of the 50-meter-tall structure at P13.44 million and the construction at P32 million. There was also a bewildering extra item of P6 million for “wrist tags” under “cauldron production including flame mechanism,” bringing the total to a staggering P55.92 million.
Sen. Sonny Angara, who defended the budget of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority, which is building the other facilities related to the SEA Games, attempted to justify the steep price tag by saying that aside from the cauldron being designed by a national artist for architecture, the government wanted “a really impressive hosting of the Games and showcase Philippine ingenuity.”
What only seems impressive at this point is that Angara is willing to employ fatuous verbal contortions to justify this monstrosity; and if there is any hint of Philippine ingenuity here, it’s in the fact that yet another government project appears to have become a money-making opportunity for some unscrupulous operators, milked, inflated and made overpriced for all it is worth.
Hence, Drilon’s call for a probe into the spending of the P6 billion allocated for the hosting of the biennial event should be heeded by the Senate—as soon as the biennial games are concluded on Dec. 11, in deference to the Filipino athletes who have been training hard to bring home the gold.
What that probe may confirm should be interesting. As Bill Velasco detailed in his Philippine Star column this week, some payments listed in the confidential budget for the country’s staging of the SEA Games—made to the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), the ad hoc body tasked to mount the Games—“appear at first glance to be greatly overpriced, the kinds of numbers you’d fall out of your chair reading.”
Aside from the P55.92-million cauldron, other big-ticket items under Phisgoc, chaired by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, include close to P500 million for “venue-related expenses,” P124.9 million for security and manpower, P87.34 million for workshops and trainings, P73.251 million for artists’ talent fees, and P73.3 million for Phisgoc’s own operating expenses. Per Cayetano, P1.5 billion of the Games budget is not subject to government bidding, because the money was disbursed to the so-called private foundation he heads as “financial assistance.”
And yet, with just over a week to go before the opening of the SEA Games, complaints over unfinished venues, lack of coordination with the corps of volunteers, and even grave concerns over the electronic scoring systems and accommodations for the visiting teams and dignitaries continue to mount.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, an estimated 8,750 athletes and team officials; 2,050 technical officials; 1,500 press and media attendees; and 12,000 volunteers are expected to witness the 56 sporting events in the three venue clusters of Subic, Clark and Manila. The squash competitions, for instance, will be held at the Manila Polo Club instead of the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, as the courts will not be finished on time. Incredibly, the bowling events will be held in Starmall, a cramped, undistinguished commercial hub right smack in the traffic-gridlocked Edsa-Shaw junction.
Then there’s the food. Datuk Megat Zulkarnain Omardin, Malaysia’s chef-de-mission to the Games, told Malaysian media that the food of the Malaysian national athletes would be brought in all the way from Malaysia as the Philippines “failed to guarantee that halal food would be served during the event.” He was likewise unhappy about the Philippines’ decision to move several of the tournament venues to Manila as this would “have an impact on the logistics of the national contingent,” and the delay in the distribution of technical handbooks needed for their athletes and officials to prepare ahead of the competition.
The questions over the “kaldero ng Diyos” are only the beginning. Once the cheers fade away, the country should take a good hard look at what appears to be a simmering cauldron of irregularities attending the 2019 SEA Games, and the people’s gold once again being hoarded by a few.
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