By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
It has been three months since the Philippines hosted the 30th Southeast Asian Games. We witnessed the glory that has eluded Philippine sports for decades. Our athletes made us proud as a people. And their excellence was their own. They shone despite the incompetence of event organizers and the controversies that hounded its preparations.
We were promised by our legislators that a short-lived inquiry into the various issues raised against the private organizers would resume after the Games. The moratorium was agreed upon, so went the explanation, to insulate our athletes from the controversy, which could impact on their performance. The principal figure in the controversy, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, even promised he would be present in these post-game hearings. It has been three months since the Games, but still no inquiry.
To recap, the country’s hosting of the 30th SEA Games in early December was preceded by a heated discussion on the atrocious cost of the ceremonial cauldron, allegations of overpriced athletic equipment and facilities, and logistical snafus. Presiding over the chaos was a hastily organized private sports foundation headed by the speaker himself, which received billions in taxpayers’ money.
What stood out during the initial hearing was the roundabout manner in which the speaker sought to justify the involvement of his foundation. The foundation — chaired by the speaker and with known associates and even an employee of the Taguig City Hall as officers — came in supposedly to bail out the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) from their procurement problem. Why these two government agencies would encounter procurement problems is a question that has not been thoroughly explained. As I have said in a previous column, the Philippines has hosted regional games in the past, all of them using government money. To my recollection, there were no issues with procurement guidelines. Besides, the speaker himself had told the Senate that there were other options, but they chose instead to hand over the reins of running the games — and taxpayers’ money — to the foundation.
The media reported that P1.5 billion had been released to the Cayetano-led foundation as of the date of the Senate inquiry. They are categorized as “financial assistance” to the foundation. How much was actually released, spent and liquidated is something that needs to be divulged, in the interest of transparency which the speaker himself invokes on many occasions.
Bear in mind that questions were raised as early as July last year, when the Palace itself ordered a probe of the foundation over reports of dubious contracts and overpriced equipment, athletes’ uniform’s and training gear. The Palace also insisted that a private entity should not manage the SEA Games. However, the Palace made a complete turn around a few days after. Then, it was silent on the issue. Have our legislators also decided to keep a lid on the SEA Games controversy because the principal figure is an administration ally?
The previous administration holds the singular distinction for political hypocrisy. It preached the value of democracy and independent institutions. Yet it used these institutions and the machinery of government to go after political opponents. In my case, my family and I were subjected to a witch hunt masquerading as a Senate investigation simply because I had declared my intention to run for president in the 2016 elections. The witch hunt was conducted by three senators – among them Speaker Cayetano – with full media coverage. For more than a year, these senators ignored my rights and the rights of those they summoned to appear before them. They tolerated and even encouraged so-called witnesses to lie under oath. They ignored the fact that their sub-committee did not have the authority reposed by the Constitution to determine guilt or innocence. The Senate was used as an instrument to destroy my reputation through constant lies.
Some observers say that the situation today is no different. Destroying reputations rather than finding out the truth remains a pre-occupation of some legislators. The selective nature of these so-called legislative inquiries remain, they say. Selective in the sense that it crucifies political opponents, while turning a blind eye on the malfeasance of allies.
However, I have faith in the independence and integrity of most senators. I pray they will do what needs to be done.