President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday promised that he would have the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games fiasco investigated, but has already vouched for the blamelessness of the lead organizer, Taguig City Congressman Alan Peter Cayetano.
In an interview with Malacañang Palace reporters last night, Duterte wondered aloud why the games had encountered so many hiccups despite their staggering PHP6 billion budget (US$118.313 million).
“There was a lot of money poured into this activity, and I supposed with that kind of money, you can run things smoothly. Apparently, maybe, there have been lapses,” he said in English and Filipino. “If there is money there, what happened to the money?”
Duterte returned to Manila from Seoul earlier this week and was reportedly miffed over the numerous SEA Games snafus. He said that should the Philippines host the biennial multi-sport event again, he would ask the military to handle the logistics — apparently forgetting that his term will end in 2022.
“Next time, these things, the military will handle it, because the military is structural. These things should be handled by military men. They are better organizers because the entire Armed Forces [of the Philippines] is one big organization. They are trained to be structural in thinking,” he said.
Duterte promised that an investigation, to be led by auditors and government lawyers, will be launched after the games end on Dec. 11 to get to the bottom of the fiasco. However, he said the probe will not investigate his ally Cayetano, whom he dubbed last week one of the “shining” stars in his administration.
“He has to answer, but I don’t think corruption is– I am sure Cayetano is not involved in corruption,” he said. “I am not investigating Cayetano. I’m just trying to find out, because I think the money must not have been properly disbursed. I know Cayetano could not have handled everything. He has to delegate this [project].”
The chief executive also appealed to critics to go easy on the organizers. “If you’re a reasonable man… do not create a firestorm now, because we are in the thick of preparations. Let us investigate after [the games] and I assure you I will investigate.”
As Duterte helped Cayetano dodge allegations of corruption, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines lambasted the congressman for alleging that the media had been bribed by unknown parties to paint the SEA Games in a negative light. Cayetano said yesterday in a presser that he is considering filing libel charges against these journalists, whom he accused of trying to smear his name. However, the lawmaker did not provide any proof to back up his allegations.
In a statement released yesterday, the correspondents association said, “Such sweeping accusations, without a shred of evidence and laced with threats of libel suits, are totally unacceptable and tend to intimidate journalists from reporting irregularities objectively.”
“Calls by the organizers for the media to report only the good news betray our bedrock mandate of providing the public with truthful information that is at the heart of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Doing their work diligently and honestly would be the best way for independent journalists to show love for country and people in this jubilant season of sportsmanship. Anything less would be tantamount to cheating that is so detested in athletics,” the organization said.