Foundation chaired by Speaker still owes P387M to SEA Games suppliers

By: Marlon Ramos - Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 07,2020 - 08:33 AM

MANILA, Philippines — A private foundation led by Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano still owes P387 million to some of the suppliers mobilized for the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games last year, among them operators of passenger vans, an official of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) disclosed on Tuesday.

At the Senate hearing on the PSC’s proposed P208-million budget for 2021, PSC Executive Director Guillermo Iroy Jr. said the foundation called Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) had asked them to request the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to release additional funds to settle Phisgoc’s debts.

The office of Cayetano, who is chair of the foundation, did not immediately respond to the Inquirer’s request for comment.

On questioning by Sen. Nancy Binay, Iroy said the government spent a total of P6.8 billion for the biennial regional sports event, which was held in various places in the country and prompted the construction of the P9.5-billion sports facilities in Capas, Tarlac province.

Demand letters

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon had also questioned the role of Phisgoc, which was incorporated as a private entity in 2018 in preparation for the country’s fourth hosting of the SEA Games from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11, 2019.

“Part of the payments [was settled] by the PSC. Up to now, we still have outstanding payments of P387 million,” Iroy told Binay.

“In fact, we have received too many demand letters. Some senators have also received [demand] letters from suppliers,” he said.

Binay pointed out that Phisgoc was allowed to utilize public funds despite being a private group that headed the preparations and the conduct of the SEA Games, which was marred by logistics and other problems.

“How did the government suddenly incur debt when in fact it was Phisgoc (that entered into the contracts with the suppliers)?” Binay asked Iroy.

“Now, taxpayer money will be used to settle their [outstanding balance],” she lamented.

Go: ‘Unacceptable’

Sen. Bong Go, who presided over the online hearing, was surprised by Iroy’s admission and questioned why the PSC spent more than what it was allocated for the SEA Games.

Go narrated that after he had distributed assistance to fire victims in Cavite province, he was approached by a van driver who informed him that he was among those who have yet to receive payment for their services.

“As chair of the (Senate sports committee), I really find this unacceptable,” a visibly upset Go told Iroy and PSC Chair William Ramirez.

“It’s unacceptable that small drivers and businessmen have remained unpaid. We had a grandiose opening and hosting [of the SEA Games], yet our ordinary countrymen have yet to receive payments,” he said.

“Even the President will not like this. We were very happy and proud of our hosting, but you did not settle [your payables] to ordinary people who are just trying to earn even a little,” he lamented.

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had ordered an investigation of Phisgoc for alleged corruption before the games kicked off after the foundation was accused of purchasing overpriced uniforms, training gear, and even socks.

The investigation, however, never got off the ground after Duterte said in a speech that he was “sure” that the Speaker was “not involved in corruption.”

Ombudsman probe

Ombudsman Samuel Martires in December last year said he had ordered his own investigation of alleged corruption in Phisgoc, which Cayetano welcomed. There has been no word from the Office of the Ombudsman on the results of the probe.

Iroy said the total number of athletes who competed in the events, along with the members of the official delegation of the participating countries, exceeded the expected guests of Phisgoc and PSC.

“That’s the reason why PSC likewise released [another P800 million] over and above the general budget for the SEA Games,” he said.

Iroy said the funds, including P5 billion from the 2019 national budget and another P1 billion from the Office of the President, were given to Phisgoc.

Big-ticket expenses

Asked by Binay where the additional P800 million from the PSC was spent, Iroy replied, saying the money was used to pay for “international broadcast and equipment.”

“The opening of SEA Games and the live coverage were [some of] the big-ticket expenses of the PSC,” Iroy said.

The PSC official said the government only collected P196 million from hosting the games, including P164 million for the accommodation of the athletes and P32 million from broadcast revenues.

Iroy said the PSC and Phisgoc had already contracted audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Philippines to conduct a third-party audit of their expenses.

He said they had also submitted all the required documents to the Commission on Audit for its own scrutiny of the fund utilization for the SEA Games. /INQ

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TAGS: DBM, Foundation chaired by Speaker, owes P387M, PSC, to SEA Games suppliers

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