Probe SEA Games funds
Now that Alan Peter Cayetano has been pried off his former post as speaker, a thorough and transparent scrutiny of the unliquidated billions spent on last year’s 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) should be the first order of business—after the passage of the 2021 budget—in the reconstituted Lower House.
Cayetano created and chaired the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), which was entrusted with P6.8 billion to fund the SEAG, an undertaking that proved so riven with controversy, charges of overpricing, and painful incompetence that President Duterte himself was compelled to apologize to participating Asian countries on the eve of the Games.
Over 10 months after the close of the event, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) is threatening to press legal charges against Phisgoc for its failure to submit its financial report on the Games.
“It is incumbent upon Phisgoc to render an accounting of the SEA Games funds immediately,” the POC said. “The Commission on Audit requires agencies and organizations who are recipients of government financial support to liquidate the funds within 60 days after the completion of the project.”
Following COA rules, the report should have been done by Feb. 9 this year, two months after the SEAG wrapped up in December and more than a full month before COVID-19 locked down the National Capital Region, including government offices.
The POC also cited its tripartite agreement with Phisgoc and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) on Aug. 15, 2019, which obligates Phisgoc to “submit to the PSC and the POC the financial reports and make available all records and documents related to the SEAG.” This is basic accountability, the group reminded Ramon Suzara, Phisgoc’s president and chief operating officer (and a former teacher of Cayetano at De La Salle Zobel): “We do not think that our call for transparency casts ‘unnecessary aspersions,’ at least on the integrity of the POC and the PSC.”
The POC demand follows reports that Phisgoc owes some P387 million to SEAG suppliers—small business owners, drivers, service providers contracted for the Games—who, after months of fruitless waiting, have sought the help of senators to collect their receivables.
So whatever happened to the P6.8 billion Phisgoc budget—the P5 billion approved by Congress and the P1.8 billion sourced from the Office of the President and the PSC itself?
In last week’s Senate hearing on the PSC budget, its executive director Guillermo Iroy said Phisgoc spent a total of P6.8 billion for the SEA Games, with P800 million used to procure sports equipment and international broadcast needs. The group also had to spend more as “participants, together with the guests, surpassed the number expected,” according to Iroy. While the country earned P195 million from the broadcast and accommodations for the delegates, that amount paid for the expenses of the Games, he added.
Not mentioned in the brief summation of expenses was the controversial Olympic cauldron that was used only at the opening and closing ceremonies of the SEA Games, which Cayetano defended as “a priceless work of art.”
Grilled by Sen. Franklin Drilon on its exorbitant expense before the Games’ opening, Cayetano said spending P50 million for the cauldron was understandable since other Asean countries that had hosted the SEA Games in the past supposedly spent so much more for a similar monument.
The “kaldero,” as the cauldron was derisively called by the public, now sits forlorn and unused in Clark, a veritable white elephant. But there was Iroy during the Senate hearing last week, asking for yet more money from the Department of Budget and Management to cover the P387 million shortfall owed small service providers.
The amount requested will be given to Phisgoc to disburse to the SEAG suppliers, the PSC official said.
“So now taxpayer money will be used to settle (Phisgoc’s balance)?” an incredulous Sen. Nancy Binay asked. She had also questioned earlier why a private entity was allowed to use public funds to fulfill the contracts it entered into.
Those are just some of the questions Cayetano and Phisgoc must be made to answer. But first, he and Suzara would have to submit the liquidation of SEAG funds whose extended deadline on Oct. 10 the two had seemingly brushed off. Any further delay in the required disclosure will only fan speculation that the books are somehow being cooked, and that the money, or part of it, had ended up for other purposes. A thorough and transparent investigation into the funds, on the other hand, can help shore up the credibility of a House whose public image has recently barreled into new lows with the legislators’ noisome brawls over turf, pork, and power while the rest of the country reels from unprecedented hunger and an unabated pandemic.
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