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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, November 26, 2019
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Game on


Based on reports coming in from various sources, including reports of foreign news outlets and the social media posts of visiting teams, it looks like the Philippines-hosted South East Asian Games 2019 edition is shaping up to be a prime source of national embarrassment of international levels.

To be fair to the organizers and the thousands of volunteers responsible for the biennial sporting event, there are most likely things that went as planned, but there is no denying that our guests, athletes and delegates have already arrived and way too many things are going wrong and we can only blame those responsible for the incompetence and lack of preparation that would be the only explanation for the epic failures that are making the Philippines the laughing stock of Southeast Asia sporting community.

The Timor-Leste football team was reportedly left stranded at the airport, and when they were finally picked up, they were taken to the wrong hotel. Thailand’s football team had to squeeze 3 people in rooms for 2, and then had to cancel practice because organizers scheduled it at the Biñan Football Stadium in Manila, 38 km from their hotel and approximately 2 hours away, even if local bigwigs lent their precious wangwang crews.

The Cambodian football team was made to wait at the hotel conference room because their rooms weren’t ready when they arrived. Squash events were cancelled at the last minute because the venues could not be completed on time.

Furthermore, the venue for football matches, the Rizal Memorial Complex, was nowhere near ready and presentable yesterday when the first matches were supposed to be held. Photos of the locker rooms provided by Malaysian media showed that renovation works were not yet done. The funny thing is that the Malaysian media was able to show their countrymen just how unprepared the Philippines is, but Filipino media was not allowed to take photos and videos of the unprepared venue. Whoever banned Philippine media from showing the truth about the state of preparation must’ve thought that the hashtag #SEAGames2019 would only display good things about the games. Anyho, Filipinos didn’t need to go inside the Rizal Memorial Complex to see just how ill-prepared their country is because the exterior, as of yesterday and mere hours before the first football game between Malaysia and Myanmar, is still adorned with scaffolding and painters.

One of the most cringe worthy tidbits I read about the SEA Games preparations was the coach of our ladies football team revealing that her girls were fed rice, kikiam and egg for breakfast. Kiksilog FTW, the breakfast of champions! Even Pami, that weird spherical, fingerless creature that is our mascot would be disgusted.

Maybe the ladies football team is being fed with special kikiam made in the magical PhP50-million kaldero that was supposedly made by a national artist for architecture. A government official justified the Imeldific-ness of the cauldron by saying it was designed by Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa. However, if you come to think of it, understanding the design is a bit tricky since Mr. Mañosa died early this year, around the time the project was approved. Maybe national artists have that ability to come up with posthumous designs and still charge atrocious design fees so politicos can make excuses for inflated costs. Or the truth is simpler and Mr. Mañosa’s name is being used to justify corruption.

Additionally, in fairness to Imelda Marcos, the origin of the word “Imeldific,” at least she delivered her grandiose projects on time. They may have buried a few people alive in concrete just to do it, but her locker rooms were probably complete and usable by the time her guests arrived. What we are currently getting is worse than Imeldific, because despite the unnecessary and inflated costs, it looks like the people in charge of the 2019 games cannot even get their crap together to put on a good show.

Is this what happens when we lower our standards too much? Filipinos have become so used to the crazy promises that cannot be fulfilled, the imaginative excuses, and the endless whataboutisms and blame-shifting that we no longer expect much from government officials. We have come to expect neither decency nor performance in recent years and as far as many of us are concerned, everything’s fine and dandy and complaining or imposing standards on the public officials who made those promises is unpatriotic.

We have probably forgotten that we live in an international community where standards have either remained lofty, or are still increasing so when we finally have visitors, it is a surprise to discover that our current small-town standards are no longer enough. Kikiam isn’t a breakfast of champions. Locker rooms are expected to be ready by game day. Transportation FUBARs are the exception rather than the rule. Workers are supported logistically and compensated properly. Overpriced and unnecessary public works are investigated and those found guilty of irresponsible spending are expected to turn in their resignations instead of being protected and gas lighting excuses being made in their behalf.

Whether the 2019 SEA Games hosted by the Philippines will succeed or fail, someone is ultimately responsible for it. Like the people who bankrolled the project, most of us would like to see it succeed. We’d love it further if it can be shown that the tax burden is reasonable and the projects and costs of hosting are free of corruption. That deep concern for our country is the reason why early reports of booboos and epic failures have captured our attention. We have allocated billions of pesos of our hard-earned but government-withheld money, entrusting government to at the very least, do a good job and not embarrass our country, and it is deeply worrying that what we are getting so far is this small town circus without a ringmaster.

Would I want the Philippines to get back on track and redeem itself despite the early setbacks in the next few days? Yes. Am I supporting our athletes and hoping for their success? Definitely.

Would I want to see a complete financial report and a post-mortem of the event to ensure that fears of corruption are addressed and the same embarrassing booboos never ever happen again? Absolutely.

Does having minimum standards for performance, along with an expectation of accountability and responsibility make me a lesser Filipino? You tell me.*  

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