Gordon open to probe SEA Games spending
After the euphoria of winning 149 gold medals in the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) last month, the head of the Senate blue ribbon committee expressed willingness to investigate the allegedly lavish government spending for the biennial sports event.
“I’m open to any investigation but we have to see all the documents first,” Sen. Richard Gordon told reporters last week. “Right now, [the allegations] are all just conjectures.”
Days before the start of the games, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson raised questions over costs for the games and the manner of disbursing the multibillion-peso budget that Congress earmarked for the 2019 SEA Games.
Role of Phisgoc
After an initial furor, Malacañang and congressional leaders agreed to a political ceasefire to allow the public to enjoy the games and the Filipino athletes to focus on competitions that were held in several venues in Luzon from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2019.
Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo had earlier said that even President Duterte wanted an investigation of “allegations of incompetence and corruption” and the role of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), a private foundation headed by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
Lacson, a member of the Senate majority bloc, said the transfer of P1.5 billion in public funds from the Philippine Sports Commission to Phisgoc was cast in the same mold as the P10-billion pork barrel racket of convicted businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles.
In both cases, he said private entities were “questionably” used as “repository of public funds” in violation of existing laws and guidelines on the use of state funds.
“A review of the government procurement law may be undertaken to find out if the transfer of public funds to a private foundation can be justified or not,” Lacson said in a text message to the Inquirer.
He said the triumph of Filipino athletes in snaring the overall championship of the multievent sports competition was not a free pass for public officials who should be held liable for flouting the law.
“The success of our athletes is not something that we owe to Phisgoc … The organizing committee had nothing to do with the honor that our athletes gave us,” Lacson said in a previous interview.
During the Senate plenary deliberations on the 2020 spending program last month, Cayetano defended the funnelling of public money to Phisgoc, saying a circular issued by the Commission on Audit “addresses all financial assistance” given to private foundations.
Drilon had questioned the propriety of Phisgoc’s decision to spend P55 million for a cauldron in the New Clark City Athletics Stadium that was supposed to be lit during the official launch of the games.
Interestingly, the lighting of the 50-meter tall structure, designed by the late architect and National Artist Francisco Mañosa, was just pretaped since the opening of the games was actually held at a private stadium located 94 kilometers away in Bocaue, Bulacan.
“To me, P55 million is an extravagance that is so unnecessary and somebody has to answer for this,” Drilon said.
He also questioned the legality of the agreement that the Bases Conversion and Development Authority entered into with a Malaysian company for the construction of various facilities at New Clark City, which hosted only the swimming and athletics events.
In pushing for a Senate investigation, detained Sen. Leila De Lima pointed out that local and foreign athletes, journalists, workers and volunteers witnessed the failure of the SEA Games organizers to properly map logistical requirements needed for such a big event.
“While problems of disorganization, incompetence and inefficiency can be resolved through institutional mechanisms, what cannot be countenanced is the scandalous probability that … certain high public officials still might have enriched themselves in the procurement of government contracts for the hosting of the games,” De Lima said.
“Proper management and governance necessitates that we conduct an inquiry on the recently concluded SEA Games especially after the problems encountered were duly documented by the mass media.”
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