Volunteers without leaders do what they can for SEA Games 2019

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – As issues continue to hound the Philippines’ hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) – including the fact that many who signed up to help in various venues didn't get updates or proper instructions from organizers – some Filipino volunteers have taken it upon themselves to help out anyway.

Before the SEA Games officially started on Saturday, November 30, reports of logistical blunders, insufficient food for delegates, and workers racing to finish the construction of venues abounded. (READ: #SEAGamesFail: Netizens embarrassed by Philippines' SEA Games hosting)

A number of volunteers, found through Twitter and individually verified by Rappler, agreed to speak, provided we don't name them, to share their experience volunteering for the SEA Games. 

Before the Games opened, Chris Tiu, the SEA Games' director for volunteers, said around 9,000 Filipinos were ready for the biggest sporting event in the Southeast Asian region. He said these volunteers had undergone rigid trainings to prepare them for the event. (READ: 100-day countdown: Is PH all set for the 2019 SEA Games?)

But some volunteers tell a different story. The ones we spoke to had a common experience: the volunteer program lacks system and coordination.

A volunteer from Metro Manila, who was assigned under the planning committee, observed that people in charge of the volunteer program didn’t conduct coordination meetings prior to the event. This manifested in the lack of process for volunteers to follow. For instance, they waited 6 hours to get their accreditation IDs and uniforms. Some of them, who were students, had to miss their classes just to complete the process.

“Issuance of IDs and uniforms should be one of the easiest tasks to execute. Kaso, dahil walang sistemang in place, magulo (However, because there was system in place, it was chaotic)," she said. 

Photo-taking for the volunteers' IDs posed a problem, too. Volunteers from the planning committee had to take the photos of other volunteers using their own mobile phones because there were no cameras provided for the activity. 

The planning committee was also in charge of processing the accreditation IDs for media personnel. She found out that photos submitted by journalists were not sorted out properly. This explained the problem encountered by GMA News journalist Raffy Tima, who was surprised to find the name "Mariz Tima" printed on his SEA Games ID. This was a likely mix-up with Mariz Umali, also a GMA journalist, who is Tima's wife.

Still, this volunteer said she wouldn't quit: “I am doing this for the country. Ayaw ko naman na mag-rant ako yet wala akong naitulong to make things better (I don't want just to rant and do nothing to make things better). But I think the people heading the teams were not the right people to be there.”

She also urged volunteers to set aside politics when volunteerism is “in force.”

“Volunteerism is not about the people you are working with. It is for the people and the country you’re going to serve. This country is still worth your time, your effort, and volunteerism spirit,” she added. 

‘Sense of nationalism’

Another volunteer from Manila shared that he also had to endure long queues to finish his accreditation, but his struggles didn’t end there. 

Three days after the Games began, he wasn't given an assignment yet. “I still don't know my deployment schedule, pick-up time, assigned venue, the specific responsibilities due to lack of trainings,” he told us then. 

According to him, miscommunication between the “functional area” coordinators and those handling the volunteers program was the biggest problem here.

Though his friends already backed out of the program, he finally got word that he would be deployed Tuesday, December 3 – but, still, with no specific assignment. He told Rappler he would just show up at the nearest venue and do what he would be allowed to do.

“I guess it's just [my] sense of nationalism. I would like to be one of the shining stars that would give foreign [delegates] a great experience [during] their stay here in the Philippines. Maybe I will try to uplift the image of the country despite the issues,” he said.

He added: “I'm not serving them (organizers); I'm serving my country. I won't let them snuff out the fire in us volunteers, who did not do it for experience, but for civil duty and nationalism.”

While this volunteer understood the frustrations and stress felt by other volunteers, he appealed to them to continue what they had been doing and look at the positive side of the SEA Games amid all the mishaps. 

“It's not your fault that there are mishaps. It’s not your fault that there are anomalies. It’s not your fault that the whole system is chaotic. You entered because you wanted to help, so, together, we will win as one,” he said, using the Philippine team's slogan.

On social media, some volunteers also shared how they were trying to fix things on their own: 

Some volunteers of the 2019 SEA Games do not have food and accommodation. Please send me a DM if you know or you are a SEA Games volunteer. We are willing to help! — wynona (@theladysea) November 26, 2019

Para maiba naman... Sige. Try natin. Message the SEA Games volunteer page and offer to help! It might not be too late to extend a helping hand. Tara. Solutions guys — Ria Atayde (@RiaAtayde) November 24, 2019

'If anyone has contact sa head ng volunteers sa SEA games, please let us know. We really want to help.' Message from Kaya Natin. — Jim (@Jimparedes) November 25, 2019

Of the SEA Games' P6 billion budget, around P100 million to P120 million had been allotted for the volunteer program. (READ: Multi-billion SEA Games 2019 fund follows Cayetano where he goes)

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman of the Philippine SEA Games Organizational Committee, has been under fire from the public following the controversial P50-million cauldron used during the Games' opening ceremonies. (READ: ‘Kaldero ng Diyos’: Netizens shocked by P50-million SEA Games cauldron). 

In a press conference on November 28, Cayetano said he was ready to face all investigations into alleged anomalies and blunders in the hosting of the regional games. (READ: Cayetano dares critics: ‘Hold me accountable’ for SEA Games mess)

However, President Rodrigo Duterte does not believe that Cayetano was involved in corruption related to funds for the event. 

Tiu asks for patience, understanding

In a statement sent to Rappler shortly before Tuesday night, Tiu said there had been an overwhelming number of volunteers, so “as much as we want to accommodate everyone, the group has to remain diligent in screening volunteers and making sure that all bases are covered.” 

Tiu said: “We don’t want to deny anyone this once in a lifetime experience. But of course we have to take into consideration certain limitations.”

According to Tiu, limitations such as skills, locations, and completeness of information were some of the factors they had to consider in accommodating many volunteers.

He asked for patience and understanding from all of the volunteers and assured them that they would do everything they could to address all the concerns.

“Managing a 9,000+ strong pool is an enormous task, which requires coordination from multiple departments within and outside PHISGOC,” Tiu said. – Rappler.com 

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.