MANILA -- An uneven start to the Philippines’ hosting of this year’s Southeast Asian Games has raised questions over why a private group led by politicians was put in charge.
The Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) has been heavily criticized on social media following reports of half-finished venues and shabby accommodation of arriving athletes — complaints the group played down and described as “normal” during the course of regional sporting events.
It’s “standard practice” for host countries to form similar groups to coordinate efforts, much like the one created for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games next year, said Cristy Ramos, former president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC).
“It’s done everywhere,” she told ABS-CBN News, noting that the SEA Games hosting was a “private sector undertaking.”
“But the problem is, and I truly believe this, that you had incompetent people. They had no inkling. They had no idea whatsoever what goes into this thing.”
Malacañang earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte wanted an investigation into the reported problems, including possible corruption.
PHISGOC chief operating officer Ramon Suzara on Wednesday deplored the bad press over the hosting.
Suzara dared reporters to also visit 52 other SEA Games venues, not just facilities such as the Rizal Memorial Stadium, where construction was still ongoing days before the formal opening.
“If I were the President, siyempre, reading all this bad news, hindi maganda, but hindi naman totoo,” he said a press conference.
(If I were the President, of course, reading all this bad news, it wouldn't seem good, but it's not true.)
The criticism of the PHISGOC should be "accepted and considered in order to rectify the errors it has committed," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said. "The critics have a point. There is indeed something wrong with the preparations."
Panelo said the media should be "more prudent in their reporting and avoid publishing information without verification, as allegations are remembered, not their clarifications or justifications."
The POC, a non-government organization, formed the PHISGOC after accepting the country’s hosting of the biennial meet 4 years ago.
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a former foreign secretary, was then tapped to chair the organizing committee, a designation that now raised eyebrows because of the perceived shortcomings by the group.
Ramos said public officials were usually named to organizing committees, partly because of how they could also better coordinate activities between government and the private sector, including fundraising.
The Tokyo Games organizing committee, for instance, is headed by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.
In the case of the US, its organizing committee’s programs “receive no federal government support,” according to its website.
“Thus, the US relies on private resources to help fund America’s elite athletes as they focus on their pursuit of excellence at the Games,” it said.
Ramos said those suggesting that the SEA Games hosting should instead be handled by the Philippine government “have to understand the structure of sports.”
“It is initiated by private sector and in this case, it is the POC,” she said.
“Philippine government cannot just say we're going to hold the SEA Games. No. The POC has to initiate that and then the POC will coordinate with the various government agencies, as necessary.”
Senators and House members led by Cayetano earlier traded allegations on who were to blame over the delay in the passage of this year’s budget, which affected the SEA Games hosting.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday released an excerpt from the chamber’s journal showing the breakdown of the original P7.5-billion allocation for the hosting.
In a statement, he denied proposing to reduce the budget to P5 billion, the amount decided during the bicameral conference committee.
The current allocation was later increased to P6 billion with P1 billion added from the contingency fund, he said.
The outcome of the Philippine hosting will ultimately “reflect on the whole country,” said Ramos, “which is why there should be careful planning in this whole thing.”