"The private sector paid for it, said Cayetano."
It is better late than never, it seems, for former House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to clear the air with regard to the controversy surrounding the cauldron built for the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) held in the Philippines in November 2019.
What’s been forgotten in the heat of the moment then was that the Philippines broke previous records, emerging overall champion with a total of 387 medals, 149 of them gold, when the competition ended in December that year. The biennial sporting event drew more than 5,000 athletes from 11 countries.
In fact, the country’s successful hosting of the games prompted Olympic Council of Asia Vice President Wei Jizhong to commend the organizers and President Duterte for what he said was its ready capability to host bigger sporting events.
But even before the Games opened in Manila, critics had slammed the expenses in building the SEAG cauldron. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asserted that the P50 million cost of the cauldron was “extravagant.” (The actual cost was P45 million). His claim sparked an outcry from netizens as well as Filipino athletes, some of whom complained that the amount could have been better spent for their allowances and training.
But in a move that caught nearly everyone by surprise, then House Speaker Cayetano, who represents the 1st District of Taguig-Pateros in the 18th Congress, chaired the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), and appeared before the Senate to answer all allegations about the hosting and funding of the Games. Rather than invoke legislative protocol and inter-parliamentary courtesy, he opted to appear before the Senate so he could personally answer all questions related to PHISGOC.
By doing so, Cayetano became the first House Speaker to break protocol and appear as a resource person in a plenary session of the Senate.
After two years, Cayetano said, in an interview with TV host Boy Abunda, that the construction of the cauldron did not come from the government but from the private sector.
The lawmaker told Abunda: “My life in politics has not been perfect but I did not touch a single centavo from the SEA Games.”
What Cayetano told Abunda was consistent with his record as an anti-corruption crusader who had either exposed or investigated corruption scandals of previous administrations.
Despite the expected record turnout of participants, the Philippine government allotted a budget of only P6 billion, thus prompting PHISGOC to solicit sponsorships to fill the funding gap. In fact, the fund requested under the 2019 budget for the Philippines’ hosting was P7.5 billion. The Senate, on Drilon’s prodding, reduced this amount to P5 billion. The Office of the President came to the rescue and provided the additional P1 billion for the games.
By comparison, Singapore, the 2015 SEAG host, spent P15 billion. Singapore also commissioned the top-rated DP Architects to build its SEAG cauldron at a cost of P63 million.
Duterte personally chose Cayetano to head PHISGOC to ensure that the funds for the SEAG would be properly spent and accounted for up to the last centavo.
In the same interview with Boy Abunda, Cayetano revealed that it was the private sector that paid for the cauldron: “People will be surprised because the government didn’t spend a single cent on it. Because the private sector paid for it.”
The cauldron, the lawmaker said, was not a mere ornament nor a useless contraption because it symbolized the Games itself, and the spirit of fair competition and sportsmanship.
The cauldron was designed by the late National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa, regarded as one of the most influential Filipino architects of the 20th century.
Cayetano revealed that since the 30th SEAG was the country’s debut on the global stage, he took care of every detail, including the design and construction of the cauldron.
The lawmaker lamented that the cauldron had become an object of derision when it should have been a source of pride, honor and glory for the country.
He said it was unfortunate that critics had turned what should have been a symbol of unity into a political issue.
And because of that, Cayetano said, several sponsors withdrew their support for the SEA Games. That really hurt, he emphasized, as SEAG could have attracted more support for Filipino athletes from the private sector had critics not resorted to baseless allegations.