‘Work of Art’: House Speaker Cayetano defends PHP50 million SEA Games cauldron

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. <i>Photo: ABS-CBN News</i>
House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. Photo: ABS-CBN News

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday defended in grandiose terms the controversial multimillion-dollar cauldron built to contain the ceremonial flame at this month’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, calling the 50-foot steel spire a “symbol,” and a “work of art.”

Cayetano made the remarks during an appearance at the Senate, where one of its members, Franklin Drilon, had questioned the cauldron’s eye-watering PHP50 million (US$981,200) price tag during a hearing on Monday. Drilon said that at least 50 classrooms could have been built from the money used to build the cauldron, which stands in Tarlac province’s New Clark City Athletics Stadium.

However, Cayetano insisted yesterday that the structure was worth the substantial investment.

Read: ‘Is it appropriate?’: Senator Drilon questions PH50 million cauldron for SEA games

“The cauldron is a monument. It’s a symbol. It’s a work of art. It’s a requirement for all who host the games because it symbolizes the games’ competition, spirit,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano is the chairman of the SEA Games’ organizer, the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, though the cauldron’s construction was overseen by the Philippine Sports Commission.

“Is it expensive? Yes… [But] It is not overpriced and it’s not excessive,” he added.

He also added that the cauldron was cheaper than the one in Singapore, which cost PHP63 million (US$1.235 million). (OK. We feel we’d be remiss not to note here that Singapore just might be a bit better able to afford that kind of lavish expenditure, given it’s per capita GDP is literally 19 times that of the Philippines.)

Cayetano went on to claim that the giant torch “enhances the development” and “adds value” to the athletic stadium. He added that hosting the biennial SEA Games should be seen as a “source of national pride” by Filipinos.

Unsurprisingly, President Rodrigo Duterte has weighed in on the controversy, maintaining last night in a press conference at Malacañang Palace that there was nothing untoward about the torch’s construction. He justified the expense by saying that it was designed by the late National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa.

“He was commissioned by the government to create the cauldron which you see now. It’s the product of the mind. You cannot estimate how much money you lost because it’s the rendition of the mind of the creator. If that’s how much he charges, he might have said, ‘Don’t buy this if you really don’t want to.’ That was his price,” the president said in English and Filipino.

“There was no extravagance. Why was it that expensive? That was the plan [of the architect]. It’s the rendition of the request of the government for this national artist. Only he knows how much his design costs,” he said.

However, despite Duterte’s insistence that the architects were responsible for the high price, only PHP4 million of the PHP50 million spent on the cauldron went to Mañosa’s firm.

As the government went into overdrive to defend the spending, even some in the athletic realm were questioning whether the monument to their efforts was worth the cost.

Journalist and Philippine Karatedo Federation President Gretchen Malalad lashed at the government for spending so much on the torch, adding that it was much more reluctant to spend money when it came to actually support athletes.

“‘There’s no budget! There’s no budget! It wasn’t approved,'” she said in a tweet on Monday. “That’s what athletes usually hear when they ask for funds for training and exposure abroad. But the government has the budget to create a PHP50 million cauldron.”

Do you think the government was right in spending this much on the cauldron? Tell us by leaving a comment below or tweeting to @CoconutsManila.  

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