Seares: Criticize SEA Games hosting? They say that’s being crabbie, unpatriotic or both.

Pachico A. Seares

THOSE who have railed against the P50 million cauldron and worried over “horror stories” of sloppy preparations for the 30th Southeast Asian Games, which our country hosts this year, are being accused of crab mentality or not loving their country.

The theory about crabs scrambling to get out of the bucket by pulling one another down cannot apply to all critics, maybe only to some politicians who have been shut out from the corridor of power during President Duterte’s administration.

“Crab mentality” may be ascribed only to people who envy those in the Games organizing committee and the P7.5 billion purse it is authorized to spend. The term “crabbie” must not describe well-intentioned citizens who genuinely worry about government spending and the various incidents—involving poor organization skills and sloppy preparations on housing accommodations and food—which have embarrassed the host country on the road to opening day on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

No love for country

And calling the critics unpatriotic employs faulty thinking. Those who scorn the expensive cauldron still want the country’s athletes to win as many gold medals as they can. They who cringe over various embarrassing inadequacies of the host country haven’t abandoned hope that the Games will be successful overall. But to use love of country to quell fair comment on an issue of national interest and equate silence on the controversy with patriotism is deceptively false.

Cebuanos recall a similar argument used by local politicians who were then preparing for the 12th Asean Summit held in January 2007 in Cebu City. They condemned any media news or commentary that warned on shortcuts made in spending on infrastructure projects. The clutch of charges filed after the summit was a lesson for the public: that an important event such as hosting foreign dignitaries is no excuse for letting citizens’ guard down.

The bright side

But before feeling despair or dismay at this stage regarding the initial fumbles by the organizers, Filipinos may look at the bright side:

[1] The defects can be corrected. We may yet have an impressive opening ceremony and memorable closing rites. Food and accommodation for the athletes may soon improve if they haven’t already, and efficient management of the competition proper as well as the vaunted Filipino warmth and hospitality may compensate for what we initially lacked. Critics could be glad about the outcome without having “to eat their words.”

[2] Other Asean members may see the initial poor performance of the Philippines as organizer and host for 2019 as a fluke since it did much better in previous years of hosting: in 1981, 1991 and 2015. At least we didn’t have as much cause for embarrassment as we have now.

[3] If any crime was committed by organizers, it has not yet prescribed. Senators who raised the suspicion of corruption or excess in authority promised to pursue their investigation after the Games.

It’s what it’s like

And here’s a point that may be lost in the exchange of accusations and explanations between opposing camps: the country is showing what it’s like in a democracy, where charges of suspected irregularities are aired and answered on various media platforms, with no one hauled to jail or gunned down for what one publicly says. A number of the other Asean countries cannot say the same thing about their own style of governance.

Those “maligned” by suspicion cannot say it was concocted out of thin air or they didn’t have the chance to answer in many platforms. And they were not without defenders, including those who hurled at critics charges of envy and greed and dearth of patriotism.

However the foreign visitor will view our kind of public debate, we do not bury or hide the issues that concern our people most.