Malacañang welcomed yesterday fresh calls for an investigation on the alleged corruption in the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games last year.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Palace, however, is leaving it to the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) and the House of Representatives to launch an inquiry and look into the anomalies hounding the embattled organizing body that was chaired by ousted Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
Calls for Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee’s (Phisgoc) investigation started in the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) after seven members of the executive council, headed by former Government Insurance System Inc. president Clint Aranas, demanded an audited financial report of the SEA Games event.
The POC general assembly gave Cayetano and Phisgoc chief operating officer and president Ramon “Tats” Suzara until 10 October to present the financial statement in accordance to their tripartite agreement with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
But Phisgoc failed to comply, prompting the POC executives to raise the idea of filing breach of contract charges since the organizing body “failed to fulfill its responsibility in the tripartite agreement.”
Aranas, also a former Bureau of Internal Revenue deputy commissioner, added that Phisgoc should have presented its audited financial statement 60 days after the completion of the event, but it’s already 10 months and not a single document has been submitted to the Olympic council.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and Rep. Jose Antonio Sy-Alvarado, who heads the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, came up with a media statement, expressing their willingness to look into the expenditures of Phisgoc.
The OMB, for its part, had already created a seven-man panel tasked to look into the allegations of corruption of the P6-billion budget during the previous SEA Games.
“We welcome this move of the OMB in the same way that we leave the matter to the House of Representatives to conduct an investigation, if need be, on the use of government fund during last year’s SEA Games,” Roque said in a statement, adding that the Filipinos “demonstrated their successful hosting of a world-class sporting event.”
“Let us, therefore, not dishonor the men and women who gave honor and glory to the country by engaging in political innuendos and witch hunts.”
Controversies hounded Phisgoc.
Although Cayetano was appointed by former POC president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco to lead the organizing body, he and his allies in Suzara, Donaldo Caringal, Monica Mitra and Dexter Estacio connived with some POC officials like former president Ricky Vargas, former secretary general Patrick Gregorio, former chair Tom Carrasco and former communications director Ed Picson in creating a new body — the Phisgoc Foundation Inc.
The new Phisgoc was created without the imprimatur of the POC, raising questions on its legality to handle government money and organize the Games.
The POC, after all, is the franchise-holder of the SEA Games pursuant to its membership in the SEA Games Federation Council, Olympic Council of Asia and International Olympic Committee.
Even President Rodrigo Duterte, in an exclusive Daily Tribune interview in 2019, raised doubts on the legality of Phisgoc, saying that he doesn’t want a “foundation” to lead the SEA Games hosting.
“I have to be responsible for this. Give the SEA Games to the government,” the Chief Executive said in reply to Daily Tribune’s query about Phisgoc’s role in the SEA Games hosting.
“The government is the most interested in winning medals. That Phisgoc Foundation only muddles up the issue. So many fingers are dipping into the hosting. It should be the government.”
“I want just one — the government.”
Still, Phisgoc Foundation managed to secure Memorandum Circular 56 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea that requires all government agencies and controlled corporations to support it in its hosting of the SEA Games.
With that, Phisgoc went on to organize the regional meet in which it drew flaks for its handling of the accreditation, accommodation, food, facilities and transportation as well as lavish spending.
Even the national women’s volleyball team was not spared with coach Let Dimzon complaining that they were fed unhealthy variety of kikiam, rice and egg before their crucial game.
The cauldron, which symbolizes friendship and camaraderie among 11 Southeast Asian nations, was also heavily criticized as it costs P55 million while some quarters questioned the reported P50-million talent fee paid to international pop group Black Eyed Peas during the closing ceremonies.
Aranas welcomed the looming probe, but cautioned that there should be no cover up.
After all, most of those involved are ranking government officials while Cayetano, despite being replaced by Velasco, still has clout in the House.
“We call on the patriots of this nation to safeguard the integrity of the investigation and avert a whitewash as it incriminates influential people,” said Aranas, a POC director and president of World Archery Philippines.
“The people are anxious to ferret out the truth behind this matter. We owe it to the people and assure them that we can hold international events rid of after the fact controversies that undermines the achievements of our athletes and their respective national sports associations.”
“We are pleased that Malacañang supports and continues to stand for transparency and accountability.”
POC 1st vice president Joey Romasanta echoed Aranas’ statement, saying that he is looking forward to an honest and transparent investigation.
“Nobody is accusing anybody of anything,” said Romasanta, an old hand in Philippine sports who played a key role in the country’s hosting of the SEA Games in 2005.
“It’s a matter of being able to clarify things up and get rid of undue speculations floating around. This investigation is not just to shed light on the finances of Phisgoc, but also for its protection and benefit.”
Romasanta emphasized that government fund is not their ultimate concern, but the revenue raised by Phisgoc from acting as if it is the agent of the POC like sponsorships, ticket sales, merchandises, broadcast rights among others.
“Government fund is not our concern,” he said.
“Our major concern is the revenue that must have been secured for and in behalf of the POC.”
“We want to know the share of the POC that could have been used for the allowance of athletes in this time of pandemic.”
with JULIUS MANICAD