Duterte apologizes to foreign teams for SEA Games 2019 woes

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte apologized to all foreign athletes and teams inconvenienced by mismanagement of his country's hosting of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

"I'm really apologizing for the country...They should know while they are still here that government is not happy with it and that their President, the president of the country where they are playing has ordered for an investigation," said Duterte on Friday, November 29, in an interview with CNN Philippines.

The President previously said he was particularly dismayed to hear about foreign teams who had to wait for hours at the airport or sleep in hotel lobbies or conference rooms because their rooms were not yet ready.

He disagreed with people who dismissed such issues as minor.

"They were not small incidents. Mabigat 'yun (Those are heavy issues). You invite countries to send athletes tapos ganoon ang mangyari (then that's what happens)?" said Duterte.

He hoped his apology would "assuage" any ill will towards the Philippines, saying negative sentiments would "cost" the country.

What about accountability? Just the other day, Duterte cleared the SEA Games' lead organizer, Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) chairman and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano of corruption involving funds for the event.

To the President, organizers might be guilty of mismanagement and lack of foresight, but not necessarily corruption.

On Friday, he said Malacañang would still push through with its investigation into the SEA Games blunders. Cayetano and other allies would still be probed.

"If I investigate and I try to protect or to hide or to bar the investigators who are arriving at the truth, I might as well say that you look, inutile ako dito (I'm powerless) so what woud be the reason for saying you are going to investigate?" he said.

As to his clearing Cayetano of corruption, Duterte downplayed his remarks, saying it was only his opinion and that he "could be wrong."

He said he would let the cards fall where they may.

"If it causes me and my allies to fall politically, then so be it. 'Yan ang swerte namin sa pulitika (that's our luck in politics)," said Duterte.

The Chief Executive is set to grace the SEA Games opening ceremony on Saturday evening, November 30 at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.