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MOUNTING COMPLAINTS OF FOREIGN, FILIPINO ATHLETES

Despite SEAG woes, no heads will roll — Panelo

MANILA, Philippines — No heads will roll among organizers of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) despite a barrage of complaints from foreign and Filipino athletes over logistical troubles plaguing the regional sports meet just days before launch, according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

“I don’t think it would come to that,” Panelo said in Busan, South Korea, late Sunday, when asked if President Rodrigo Duterte would fire those responsible for the mess.

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But Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go on Monday vowed to initiate a Senate inquiry into the logistical snafus that caused unnecessary inconveniences to athletes competing in the 30th SEA Games.

The complaints range from accommodation and transport woes of foreign athletes, including delayed check-in and crammed shuttles from the airport, to inadequate food. (See related story in Sports, Page A16.)

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As the cases mounted, 1-Pacman Rep. Michael “Mikee” Romero blamed senators for the logistical hiccups, which he claimed was due to the delay in the passage of the P3.7-trillion national budget for 2019.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon chided Romero for singling him out, arguing that it was actually his suggestion to Senate President Vicente Sotto III that ended the four-month deadlock in the approval of the spending bill.

“This is an insult to the leadership of the Senate,” Drilon said in a statement.

Go, chair of the Senate sports committee, lambasted the failure of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), the agency primarily tasked with overseeing the country’s preparations for the hosting of the biennial sports event, to ensure that the construction of all sports facilities would be ready.

In a privilege speech, Go noted that the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), a private foundation headed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, announced on Oct. 30 that the preparations were “90 percent complete.”

Cayetano apology

“We do not need an apology at this time. You cannot address this with mere apology,” he said in apparent reference to Cayetano’s offer to the football teams of Myanmar, Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Thailand.

“What we need is to wake up everyone. Don’t be lethargic!” he said.

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Go pointed out that Congress and the Office of the President had provided the needed public funds to the organizers of the regional sports meet.

“There’s no reason to claim that we are not ready,” he said. “There is a right time for everything. We should not be blaming each other now. But after the games, we will hold them accountable.”

Though he apologized to those who were inconvenienced, Panelo was forgiving toward criticisms directed at Phisgoc.

‘Not serious anyway’

“It wasn’t that serious anyway. It would be different if their lives or their health were put in harm’s way, but a few hours delay of checking in or transporting, it happens to any passenger nowadays all over the world,” Panelo said before the start of the 2019 Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit.

He said he found no need to exact accountability from those at fault.

“[Phisgoc] has already explained. They issued a statement. That’s OK already. I think they will find ways [to fix the problems],” he added.

Panelo said: “This kind of incidents, given the number of countries participating and the athletes coming here, could not be avoided. There will be delays in the transport, in the checking in, there will be some miscommunications. Those are never intentional.”

What he found “appealing” was that there had been no single incident report of their safety being in danger or their health being at risk.

“I’m sure they will do better in the next succeeding arrival of the other countries’ delegates and athletes,” Panelo said.

More complaints are coming the way of Phisgoc.

A delegate from Singapore on Sunday called on Phisgoc to immediately resolve the situation its athletes were facing, after its football team reportedly “starved” after being served “insufficient” food at a hotel in Manila.

Juliana Seow, Team Singapore’s chef de mission, said football athletes staying at Century Park Hotel in Malate, Manila, were given “limited” portions of halal food that had to be shared with players from other countries also participating in the SEA Games.

“As much as we had tried to resolve these situations ourselves as well as with our sports and you, these situations cannot continue any further as our athletes are badly affected and are not able to prepare for the games effectively,” Seow said in her letter to Ramon Suzara, Phisgoc chief operating officer.

She added that the athletes were given “very limited” food options, such as plain rice, fried noodles and one meat, at lunchtime upon the team’s arrival on Nov. 23.

Seow said the hotel management had promised it would “top up” the food choices for the next sets of meals, but they had reportedly failed to do so.

Members of the Singapore team, however, disputed Seow’s statement, saying that the athletes generally did not have any complaints about accommodations.

“While she was right about the initial portions of food offered, that was only during the first day … but as you can see now, there are even leftover halal and nonhalal food at the buffet,” Champ Cargamento, the team’s liaison, told the Inquirer on Monday.

‘Full occupancy’

On Sunday night, Century Park management cited “full occupancy” for its failure to properly accommodate the Cambodian athletes who arrived in the country ahead of the hotel’s 12 p.m. standard check-in time.

“As goodwill, we offered our function rooms to serve as their temporary holding area after their breakfast,” the hotel said in its statement. “We asked them if they needed more chairs but they declined, preferring the floors so they could lie down to rest.”

It added that it was coordinating with organizers on the concerns raised by the Thai team, including a meal plan for the SEA Games delegation.

These complaints began piling up after photos of the Cambodian football team lying down on the hotel floor and using chairs as makeshift beds circulated online, angering netizens and resulting in the increasing demand for accountability over the “failure” of the country’s SEA Games hosting.

Baseless

In the Senate, Drilon said Romero’s accusations were misplaced and baseless.

“To refresh Romero’s memory, had it not been for the solution or compromise that I proposed … we would not have resolved the 2019 budget impasse and we would have continued on a reenacted budget,” he added.

Upon Drilon’s proposal, Sotto signed on March 26 the final draft of the 2019 spending program adopted by the bicameral committee with “strong reservations” on the “insertions” of several projects worth P75 billion by allies of then Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In a television interview, Romero claimed that the Senate “had a lot of problems” that led to the stalemate in the approval of the 2019 national budget.

“If they have approved it and the budget was already available last January, all these mishaps might not have happened,” Romero said.

Reacting to the allegations, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said: “No way. We did not cause the delay.”

“We should not be blamed for doing our constitutional duty. You can just imagine if we allowed that (P75 billion in insertions) just for the sake of passing the budget measure on time. It would have been a bigger debacle,” Lacson told reporters.

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TAGS: 30th SEA Games, Alan Peter Cayetano, Bong Go, Christopher Go, Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Panelo
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