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Makabayan solons push for probe into SEA Games spending controversies

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By Charissa Luci-Atienza

The six-man Makabayan bloc filed on Thursday a resolution seeking a congressional probe into the controversies involving the use of funds allocated to host the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

House of Representatives (Congres PH / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

House of Representatives (Congres PH / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Kabataan party-list Representative Sarah Jane Elago and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said they are urging the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability, chaired by Bulacan Rep. Jose Antonio Sy Alvarado, to investigate whether or not the P5 billion budget for the hosting of the SEA Games and the P77.27 million budget for general administration and support of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) were properly spent.

“The public calls for full transparency, thus there is a need for itemization of the budget for the hosting of 2019 SEA Games,” the seven-page House Resolution No. 602 reads.

“Some Filipino athletes expressed their grievances on the lack of funds for support, especially for training and preparations, as compared to the billions of pesos spent for the hosting of the 30th SEA Games,” it adds.

Zarate said the House should exercise legislative and oversight functions to ensure that the people’s money was properly used.

“This is in the spirit of transparency. This does not involve private money, but the people’s money. Congress should exercise legislative and oversight functions to determine where and how these funds were used,” he said.

In the resolution, the Makabayan lawmakers noted that on May 9, 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the P1 billion augmentation to the funds of the PSC for hosting the SEA Games for the fourth time.

Last year, Philippine Southeast Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) requested P7.5 billion in funding for the expenses of the world-class hosting, but Congress only approved P5 billion as reflected in the 2019 General Appropriations Act, they said.

The progressive lawmakers said that Congress allocated P170.351 million for locally-funded projects under the amateur sports development program of the PSC.

“Congress also allocated P3,963,500,000 for the MOOE (maintenance and other operating expenses) of the development of New Clark City and P9,544,000,000 for MOOE of the construction of sports facilities in the National

Government Administrative Center under the 2019 budget of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority,” the solons said.

They said days before its formal opening, the biennial Games were saddled with mishaps and controversies.

“For example, WRC Construction workers, augmented by the Department of Public Works and Highways, worked round-the-clock to install the 1,000-capacity bleachers and roofs for the audience and to finish the painting of skating ramps.

“According to the contractor, the sports complex near Tagaytay International Convention Center that would host cycling, BMX, and skateboard competitions on Dec. 4, which consists of a three-hectare skate park and cycling oval, was 93 to 95 percent finished as of Nov. 26, 2019,” the Makabayan bloc said.

They said there were also various reports of still-unfinished event venues.

“Even the venue for the makeshift press conference, which was used as a working area for journalists covering the advanced football games, at the Rizal Memorial Stadium remained unfinished before the start of the Malaysia versus Myanmar football game held last Nov. 25, 2019,” they said.

Phisgoc COO Ramon Suzara claimed that as of Nov. 24, 2019, 50 out of 56 venues for the SEA Games had been completed.

“Suzara claimed that the venues are all ready since October. He also assured [the public] that the other unfinished venues would be completed in time for the games,” they said.

But hours before the sports event, they said, Richard de los Santos, one of 27 construction workers from the DPWH, lost his balance in heavy rain and fell around 11 a.m. while taking down scaffolding around the stadium.

De los Santos also claimed he was sleep-deprived when he fell.

“According to a news report, the ‘management advised its workers to finish the renovation and remove all scaffolding exactly at 10 a.m. considering the 4 p.m. schedule of the football game’ in the Rizal Memorial Stadium. [De los Santos] sustained leg injuries and skull fractures and was rushed to the Ospital ng Maynila,” the lawmakers said.

They said questions were raised about the need to build new sports facilities in New Clark City considering that Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila could have been upgraded for only P1.2 billion.

“Proponents of the new facilities justified that the sports complex can be rented out to foreign teams as training venues after the SEA Games. However, there are news reports, particularly by the British Broadcasting Corp., showing that hosting international sports events like the Olympics can be an economic burden on a country, especially if the host country has to build the facilities. Throughout Olympic history, the venues are abandoned after the event,” they said.

The New Clark City Sports Complex in Tarlac, Pampanga served as the main venue of the SEA Games. However, only four sporting events – aquatics-diving, aquatics-swimming, aquatics-water polo, and athletics – were held there, the Makabayan lawmakers said.

Other events were held in Subic in Zambales, Tagaytay City in Cavite, and Metro Manila, and most of the events were held in Metro Manila, including basketball, volleyball, and weightlifting.

The Makabayan bloc said the public also questioned the cost of construction of the three-meter wide, 50-meter high stadium cauldron.

According to Senator Franklin Drilon, the cauldron received a budget allocation of P4.48 million for the design, P13.44 million for the foundation, and P32 million for the construction.

House Speaker Alan Cayetano, who is Phisgoc chairperson, earlier defended the controversial P50-million stadium cauldron, saying it is cheaper than Singapore’s P63 billion cauldron in 2015 and justified it as a “work of art” designed by the late National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa.

“It is the primordial duty of the Congress, in the exercise of its legislative and oversight functions, to ensure that the people’s money was utilized for the benefit of the Filipino people and not wasted due to government inefficiency and corruption.

“As legislators, it is one of our duties to promote full transparency in all government transactions, to look into the causes and results of successful and unsuccessful projects and programs implemented by the executive, and to help the government learn from its mistakes in pursuance of efficient service delivery for the people,” the Makabayan bloc said.

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