An investigation on alleged irregularities in the construction of sports facilities for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games is an embarrassment that will besmirch the reputation of Filipino athletes. That is how Sen. Pia Cayetano framed the call by Sen. Risa Hontiveros for the Senate to conduct a probe into the construction of the multibillion-peso facilities at the New Clark City spearheaded by her brother, then Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
“I am embarrassed that we choose to make a political issue out of a world-class sports facility. So paano, puro bulok na lang tayo para walang pumansin? Ganon?’’ said a fuming Cayetano as she took to the Senate floor to denounce Hontiveros’ proposal (even as she also admitted she hadn’t heard her fellow senator’s speech in full).
Another supposed embarrassment for Cayetano: that “we cannot even honor’’ the Filipino athletes’ victory against other Asian countries by calling for such an investigation.
What kind of logic is this? It’s precisely because billions of taxpayer money were expended for this controversial project in the name of our perennially underfunded athletes that we owe it to them, and to the public, to ferret out the truth.
Even before Hontiveros sought a Senate investigation, the proceedings by the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), a private foundation led by then Speaker Cayetano, had been mired in controversy, beginning with the P50-million “kaldero’’ or cauldron built to light the torch for a few minutes at the opening ceremony.
The questions are no idle conjecture. The Commission on Audit (COA) flagged irregularities in the project in its 2019 audit report, and the Ombudsman announced in December last year that it would conduct an investigation on possible corruption in Phisgoc amid reports of overpriced uniforms, training gear, etc.
In its report, the COA said the project was disadvantageous to the government as it was negotiated through an unsolicited proposal rather than through competitive bidding. The government ended up paying an additional P1 billion when the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) incorporated the construction of sports facilities in a 2017 unsolicited proposal by Malaysian developer MTD Capital Berhad to build a National Government Administrative Center at the New Clark City in Tarlac.
Moreover, according to the COA, the BCDA gave undue advantage to MTD, which was allowed more time to study the proposal months before an invitation for a Swiss challenge was opened to other bidders.
The COA also flagged the prompt payment of the BCDA to MTD of P5.488 billion as of Dec. 31, 2019, despite the absence of a study or proof of viability of the sports venue.
Hontiveros said the P8.5 billion funding that should have been put up by MTD came from a P9.5 billion loan granted by the Development Bank of the Philippines. But under the loan agreement, the BCDA was obligated to pay P11 billion for the loan.
Apart from the P11 billion or so for the sports facilities, the government also spent P6.8 billion for the hosting of the SEA Games.
However, as disclosed by Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) executive director Guillermo Iroy Jr. in a Senate hearing last Oct. 6, as of last month, Phisgoc still owed some P387 million to SEA Games suppliers.
Then there is the civil suit filed by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) against Phisgoc for its alleged failure to abide by the Aug. 15, 2019 tripartite agreement it signed with the POC and the PSC detailing their respective roles in the SEA Games. The agreement was a requirement for the release of P6 billion in national government funds in running the Games.
The suit also demands the release of Phisgoc’s audited financial report. Phisgoc failed to submit the already overdue report on Oct. 10, the final deadline set by the POC.
Just like his sister, Taguig Representative Cayetano was quick to slam the calls to look into the SEA Games accounting, calling the POC suit a politically motivated witch hunt. “The problem is the POC elections are nearing and people are trying to make an issue even if there is none,” he claimed. “No one is even saying what exactly they want to investigate.”
More misdirection. Politically motivated or not, do such calls invalidate the fundamental issue—the requirement to provide accountability for the use of billions of taxpayer money?
The brother-and-sister act of fending off investigation is a gross disservice to the notion of transparency in dispensing precious public funds, more so in a year marked by an unprecedented pandemic, record hunger, and monster typhoons. The performative fulmination is classic deflection—waxing irate to change the subject and redirect scrutiny. But, to use the Duterte administration’s favorite line to critics: Why be afraid if you have nothing to hide?
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