Malacañang: SEA Games critics have a point

Pia Ranada
(UPDATED) The Palace announces it will conduct its own probe into the logistical mishaps dogging the regional sporting event

GAME ON. Workers walk past the flags of Southeast Asian countries next to the Aquatic center in New Clark City, in Capas town, Tarlac on November 26, 2019, days ahead of the opening ceremony of SEA Games. Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippine hosting of the Southeast Asian Games has become the latest polarizing topic among observers but Malacañang, on Thursday, November 28, has given its word on the matter: some of the criticisms should be taken seriously.

“An array of criticisms has been made on how PHISGOC has handled the logistics of this momentous event, and these should be accepted and considered in order to rectify the errors it has committed,” said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo in a statement.

“The critics have a point. There is indeed something wrong with the preparations,” he continued. (READ: Duterte ‘displeased’ by SEA Games mishaps, wants probe)

PHISGOC, or the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee, is the private entity authorized by Duterte to organize and hold the SEA Games.

Panelo also announced that Malacañang would conduct an investigation, separate from that of the Senate, into the SEA Games mishaps, which range from foreign and local athletes having to wait for hours at airports or hotel lobbies to supposedly inadequate food provided to athletes.

“The Office of the President will also be conducting a separate probe on the aberrations and irregularities in the administration of our country’s hosting of the SEA Games immediately after the games,” said the Duterte spokesman.

Panelo, in a press briefing on Thursday, vowed that even Phisgoc chairman and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano will not be spared from punishment should the probe discover anomalies or violations of the law.

“There is no sacred cow in this government. Those who transgress the law will be accountable,” he said.

Cayetano is a key ally of Duterte’s in Congress and who served as his foreign secretary. He was also the president’s running mate in the 2016 national elections

‘Don’t believe false information’

But the Palace also warned the public from believing all the negative content spread online about the SEA Games hosting. He, however, did not specify which information was false.

“We ask everyone to be more circumspect in reading articles that may contain false information or fake news. Let us not believe them outright. Many of them turn out to be untrue,” said Panelo.

He also called on media organizations “to be more prudent in their reporting” and “avoid publishing information without verification.” 

Some media outfits have been slammed, particularly by Duterte supporters online, for publishing news that the Philippine women’s football team was served a meal of kikiam, rice, and egg which the team’s coach said lacked in nutritional value. It was the coach who identified the viand as kikiam, which was reported by media.

The hotel that served the meal, however, denied serving kikiam and insisted the viand was actually “chicken sausage.”

Duterte supporters and even some government officials have also slammed reporters for publishing photos of unfinished SEA Games venues, saying these caused “panic.” 

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines  shot back that journalists were merely doing their jobs in reporting the shortcomings of the hosting. 

The group reminded SEA Games organizers that “the duty of the press has always been to report things as they are, based on verifiable facts, and not to pander to anyone’s perception of what is, or should be.”

“Attempting to dictate how the media should report the news has no place in a democracy,” it added.

Media outlets who did err in reporting have apologized for the mistake. The Inquirer, for instance, issued an erratum on November 26 for a photo of an unfinished football stadium incorrectly identified as the Biñan Football Stadium, a SEA Games venue. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.