"To say that an investigation into the sports complex is an insult somehow to the athletes who use it is patently absurd."
Raising her voice and jabbing her finger into the air several times for emphasis, Senator Pia Cayetano on Tuesday bristled at a call from her colleague, Senator Risa Hontiveros, for a legislative probe into alleged irregularities in the funding of sports facilities used in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
Reacting to Hontiveros’s privilege speech that she did not hear, Cayetano accused her fellow senator of using the Senate as a platform to politicize the project at New Clark City in Tarlac, and undermining its importance to Filipino athletes.
Cayetano seems particularly infuriated that Hontiveros had the gall to ask if the New Clark City stadium built specifically for the SEA Games might become a “white elephant.”
“I am embarrassed that we choose to make a political issue out of a world-class facility,” Cayetano declared before switching to Filipino. “That is why no one bothers to build proper and praiseworthy structures here in the Philippines, because if you just build something nice, they’ll already tell you you did something fishy.”
Cayetano also said the New Clark City stadium meant a lot to the athletes who were so used to training in dilapidated facilities.
Questioning the utility of the facilities, she said, was a slap in the face of Filipino athletes.
“I take offense as an athlete, as a mother of athletes, as a mentor, and as a friend of all these athletes whose sole pride was to be able to see such a structure built in their honor questioned and castigated in this manner,” Cayetano said.
In contrast to Cayetano’s histrionics, Hontiveros was calm in her reply.
She noted that she had not called the new stadium a white elephant, but merely posed a question about it.
While acknowledging that the new facilities were excellent, Hontiveros also said the quality of these facilities would not excuse any corners that might have been cut, as others—including the Commission on Audit—have suggested. She added that the facilities might have been even better if the project had gone through public bidding, as required by law.
We understand, of course, that Senator Cayetano may have been personally offended by calls to investigate government spending for the Southeast Asian Games, particularly since her brother, Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, then the speaker of the House, oversaw the entire project.
But then speaker Cayetano, as chairman of the SEA Games Organizing Committee, said he was ready to face any investigation into the controversies surrounding the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games after they had been held.
“Hold me accountable…. I won’t hide. I would show up at the Senate [or] the [Office of] the Ombudsman,” Cayetano said at the time. “Allow us to have successful games. After the SEA Games, any investigation, any finding, I’m ready to face it.”
Now, almost a year since he said that, state auditors have questioned the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) for approving the P8.5-billion sports facilities project for the 2019 SEA Games, saying that it was “prejudicial to the interest of the government.”
Given this, we feel compelled to ask: would Senator Cayetano object so vociferously about an investigation into possible corruption if she were not so personally invested? Wouldn’t she, as a senator of the land, want to determine the truth about allegations that taxpayers money was being squandered, or worse, stolen?
To say that an investigation into the sports complex is an insult somehow to the athletes who use it is patently absurd. They had nothing to do with the construction of the facilities.
If Senator Cayetano wants us to believe that everything about the project was aboveboard, then she should support a thorough investigation that could sweep away any suggestion of wrongdoing. To protest too much, as she has done, only raises more questions.