Slowly, and rather surely, organizers of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games have found ways to cover for their inefficiencies that marked the start of the biennial event.
From the shabby welcome some of the competing foreign squads had received and bad food, non-halal food compliance, serving a prince competing in an event with food he is allergic to, delays in bus service for the competitors, to the non-availability of rooms that prompted other teams to transfer to other hotels at their own expense, these complaints would taper down as the athletes start to focus on their competitions, and rightly so.
The Games are for the competition and camaraderie, after all.
Tats Suzara, the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) president and CEO, had boldly declared that the Filipinos would forget all about these pre-Games controversies once they saw the opening spectacle that cost the government P642 million.
He was so sure about that. It is for this attitude that House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the Phisgoc chairman and driving force of the separate Phisgoc Foundation — Confused? We are, too! — has made him his go-to guy in this endeavor.
There was no reason for the opening program to fail. The amount of staging the ceremonies beat the whole budget the Philippines had spent for its hosting of the SEA Games in 2005.
But that was the most impressive SEA Games hosting by the country so far.
The first time we hosted the Games was in 1981, when Lydia de Vega shone before she became Asia’s fastest woman.
Then, we hosted the Games again in 1991. We ran neck and neck with then perennial champion Indonesia, before we settled for second overall by a hairline.
But 2005 was different. We smothered the competition and won the overall championship for the first and last time. And with only P500 million to finance the whole affair, including the training and preparations of the athletes.
For this SEA Games hosting, government has shelled out P6 billion. It’s a lot of moolah to spend by the Phisgoc.
The organizers tried to sell the opening program as the “best ever.” Filipinos were quick to buy that. We have, of course, not seen the other opening programs in the past Games.
In any program, it is always the lighting of the cauldron that is awaited. It is the highlight of the affair.
Muhammad Ali, his body shaking and battered by Parkinson’s disease, lit the 1996 Atlanta Olympics cauldron, forming clouds in the vision of millions of viewers.
There was none of that on Sunday. Manny Pacquiao, undoubtedly one of the most famous boxers of his generation, was nowhere near the P55 million cauldron when it was supposedly lit to mark the start of the SEA Games. He was in General Santos City, watching the whole affair in the comfort of his mansion. The program was pre-taped to make sure nothing untoward happened to the controversial cauldron had it gone live.
Just for comparison, the 2017 SEA Games cauldron was set aflame by a flying diver in 2017 in Malaysia; Myanmar in 2013 did it with a lit arrow sent with precision by one of its archers; while a badminton player flew to spank the cauldron in Indonesia in 2011.
These affairs are equally great.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the President’s daughter whom he described as the alpha in the family, had some words on the show, however.
Because, while the program tried to project the country’s culture, using indigenous people’s costumes and dances, Inday Sara found it too Manila-centric.
The song used for the program was for “Manila,” for an affair held in Bulacan, for games that are to be held in Pampanga and Zambales, with many athletes coming from the Visayas and Mindanao forgotten.
Sara wants inclusion. It was President Rodrigo Duterte’s driving force when he campaigned for the country’s top post. Nobody was left behind when the elder Duterte began his march to Malacañang.
Cayetano’s team may have forgotten about that. It was his show, after all.