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An old diversionary ploy

Astonishing was Sen. Pia Cayetano’s rant at Sen. Risa Hontiveros for calling for a Senate inquiry into the construction of sports facilities for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. It provides an idea of how she will henceforth behave in the face of any perceived suggestion of chicanery by her brother, Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano. Expect her then to be constantly antsy, because the congressman is now confronted by unfinished business — his stint as chair of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), which early on fumbled big-time in its task, to the point that even President Duterte, the Cayetanos’ friend and ally, had to apologize to the participating countries.

But for how long can the senator keep at it? Her brother, recently ousted as Speaker of the House despite herculean efforts to escape a term-sharing agreement with the incumbent, is now finding it’s just the start of his aggravations.

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In a privilege speech on Tuesday, Hontiveros sought an investigation of the apparent undue advantage enjoyed by MTD Capital Berhad in its joint venture with the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) to build a sports venue for the SEA Games hosted by the Philippines on Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2019. Whereupon Pia Cayetano lit into Hontiveros, at one point dramatically asking if Her Honor had ever been to the sports venue at the New Clark City in Tarlac which, she said, Filipino athletes had wept at beholding.

The allegations of irregularity were “a slap in the face” of Filipino athletes who had long been training and competing in sordid conditions, declared Cayetano. She claimed embarrassment “that we choose to make a political issue out of a world-class facility.” She lamented “what will happen to our country—all malice, all judgment.”

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“Puro malisya, puro panghuhusga” was what the chair of the Senate ways and means committee actually said, mouthing the politician talk often heard in this neck of the woods peopled by pretty boys who balk at returning plundered money and filthy rich worthies fighting tooth and nail to serve as representatives of impoverished folk. Yet Hontiveros, in seeking the inquiry into the project “riddled with badges of a fake joint venture” was citing the 2019 report of the Commission on Audit. Released last Oct. 15, the report reads in part: “The Sports Facilities, planned/conceptualized by the BCDA was negotiated into an unsolicited proposal rather than going through competitive bidding…”

The matter acquires urgent proportions because it involves a P9.5-billion loan that was granted MTD by the Development Bank of the Philippines, from which the Malaysian contractor got the P8.5 billion it put into the project. Hontiveros said the BCDA — which defends the project as aboveboard — was obligated not only to facilitate the grant of the loan but also to reimburse MTD for the money advanced.

Now how and why can questions on the disturbing aspects of the funding as raised by the COA constitute a slap in the face of Filipino athletes who had neither hand nor say in the matter? This seeming lapse in logic is an old diversionary ploy: “Gasgas na,” to put it crudely, as in someone invoking a crying need for good manners and right conduct in order to defuse public outrage over plundered pork barrel. As it happens, even the focus of Senate President Vicente Sotto III has been diverted: He told reporters, in what he later said was his personal opinion, that he wasn’t keen on the inquiry Hontiveros was seeking because it would taint the Filipino athletes’ sterling performance at the Games.

The Filipino athletes surmounted formidable obstacles in bagging a record haul of 387 medals including 149 golds, emerging No. 1 among the 11 countries that competed in 56 sports. There’s no smearing that victory. But think what bigger glory they could have won had, say, part of the P50 million blown on the Olympic cauldron that the ex-Speaker described as a priceless work of art been spent on their training and development. Think what it could have done to prevent the chess champion Wesley So from dispiritedly decamping to America, which he now masterfully represents on the world arena. Etc. (Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, questioning the amount last year, caustically said P50 million could have built 50 classrooms.)

It’s also time Phisgoc, the private foundation chaired by the ex-Speaker, made a full accounting, financial and otherwise. Not only white elephants but also ancestral domains and more are involved. Big Sister of dynasts has her plate full.

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TAGS: 2019 SEA Games, Alan Peter Cayetano, Commentary, diversionary ploy, MTD Capital Berhad, pia cayetano, Risa Hontiveros, Rosario A. Garcellano
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