By Genalyn Kabiling and Ben Rosario
The government is prepared to hold accountable House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the head of the organizing committee of the Southeast Asian Games, if found involved in any irregularity, Malacañang declared Thursday.
No one will be spared from the government’s investigation on the alleged irregularities besetting regional tournament regardless of friendship or alliance with President Duterte, according to presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
Cayetano is the head of the privately formed organizing committee Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) that has drawn flak for alleged inefficiency following some logistical lapses that inconvenienced athletes.
“There is no sacred cow in this government. We have been repeatedly saying that. Those who transgress law will be accountable,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing when asked if the Palace was ready to punish Cayetano if found accountable.
“Did you see the President fire his friends and allies in the Cabinet?” he added.
Dismayed with some organizational lapses, the President recently authorized an investigation into the alleged incompetence and corruption from the country’s hosting of the regional sports tournament. The competition has been marred with problems such as poor hotel and transport accommodations for the athletes.
Panelo, speaking to reporters at the Palace, said the probe to be conducted by the Office of the President will start immediately after the games. The President may assign a person or create a committee to lead the investigation, he added.
“Whatever irregularities or any allegation of fraud, they will all be investigated after the event,” he said.
“The President is clear that while he is displeased with what he has heard, he would like these games to proceed,” he added.
Panelo agreed with the critics of Phisgoc about the reported lapses in preparing and organizing the regional sports tournament.
“An array of criticisms has been made on how Phisgoc has handled the logistics of this momentous event, and these should be accepted and considered in order to rectify the errors it has committed,” he said.
“The critics have a point. There is indeed something wrong with the preparations,” he said.
The investigation into the alleged irregularities in the SEA Games ordered by President Duterte will be conducted as soon as the tournament is over, Panelo said.
Cayetano strikes back
On Thursday, Cayetano hit back at detractors behind the series of criticisms over the country’s hosting of the SEA Games, vowing to face them as soon as the competitions are over.
Interviewed following his speech at the 44th anniversary of the Philipine National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, Cayetano lamented the flood of alleged fake news aimed at discrediting him and the Phisgoc which he heads.
Cayetano will ignore the protection granted under inter-parliamentary courtesy, saying that he is prepared to face a Senate inquiry into the SEA Games funding controversies but after December 12, when the regional competition is over.
He also disclosed that on that date, he will send a letter to the Commission on Audit to conduct an independent special audit of all government funds spent for the SEA Games.
The House leader said President Duterte has sent word for him to continue and “do your job.”
Cayetano also claimed he has information that the campaign to discredit the country’s handling of the SEA Games is backed by an enormous amount of money.
This is clearly manifested by media’s reporting of the “kikiam” incident which was later clarified by the Century Park Hotel management as untrue.
Cayetano also vowed to pursue criminal charges against persons behind the SEA Games smear drive for violation of libel and cyber libel laws.
He also assailed Senators Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon who criticized the House leader’s handling of the SEA Games project.
Lacson questioned the receipt by Phisgoc of over P1.5 billion from government as being similar to the pork barrel anomalies that were charged against businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles.
Cayetano countered that Lacson has also been receiving government money to his account to finance the operations of his Senate office.