Seares: Phisgoc in SEA Games, SFI-SGB in Sinulog: Furor raises caution

Pachico A. Seares

AT THE center of the controversy over the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games the country is hosting are House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, a public official, and Phisgoc, or Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, a private foundation that is running the show.

What has Cayetano, a legislator, been doing in a private group that is managing a sports event hosted by the national government?

Apparently, Cayetano wanted to lead the group that would have a budget of P7.5 billion (later reduced to P6 billion including the P1 billion that President Duterte added) and the starting operating fund of P700 million.

And he got it. Phisgoc was organized in July without the approval of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC). With Cayetano’s clout, the budget for the SEA Games sailed through in the House and met some serious scrutiny only in the Senate.

Conflict of interest

Which highlights the conflict of interest, when Cayetano who leads Phisgoc is also the leader of the House that decides how much money the private group will get.

Cayetano’s being a politician and presidential timber in 2022 expectedly would draw flak like magnet and indeed it has.

The flood of criticism about preparation fumbles, along with innuendoes about corruption, made Cayetano hopping mad. Thursday (Nov. 28), Cayetano dared Sen. Franklin Drilon and Sen. Ping Lacson that the three of them take a lie detector test and see who’s lying, almost as silly a challenge as seeing whose nose would stretch in the course of their verbal exchange.

Confusion of rules

Our point here is that the situation in the SEA Games is created partly by (a) confusion of roles by public officials and (b) absence of specific rules, or their non-enforcement, on relations between the government and the nongovernment organization (NGO) it partners with on a public event.

Here, the government principally provides the funds. A private group, Phisgoc, handles the money, in addition to the funds it raises from private sponsorships and donations.

Phisgoc has had no track record yet, having been organized only last July. It wasn’t surprising that the gaffes and slips were made. The trustees or directors were handpicked by Cayetano, including four from his “inner circle.” His power as Speaker in the House that allocates the money and his grip over the private group are ingredients for abuse or excess, with no oversight on spending and audit on performance.

The Sinulog problem

There is supposed to be government control of public funds, including the COA (Commission on Audit) ban on donations to a private group. Cebu City has not been issuing the donation check to the Sinulog Foundation Inc. (SFI) because of conflict of interest created by Vice Mayor Mike Rama’s position in SFI. In Phisgoc’s case, though, it is not a donation but a direct cash-out, with the organizing committee handling and spending the money.

As in the Sinulog Foundation and the Sinulog Governing Board (SGB) in relation to the City Government, there is no specific structure—and thus no clear rules. Since SFI is a private foundation and SGB is only created by the mayor, there is no specific mandate on how the arrangement works. The latest clash between Vice Mayor Rama and two SGB officials on the real function of the foundation in the 2020 Sinulog raised contradictory claims that have not yet been publicly resolved.

Risk for 2020

The City Government’s stake in the Sinulog festival is only P35 million, a pittance compared to the national government’s SEA Games spending of P6 billion. Yet the problem created by blurred lines in government and NGO ties is uncannily similar.

The organizational flaw in Phisgoc was exposed only when those glitches in the run-up to the Games proper occurred. Sinulog’s organizational ills are also raised before the public only in this year’s preparation for Sinulog 2020.

The public wouldn’t want any SFI-SGB clash or stalemate to spoil next year’s festival.