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Duterte says there will be ‘no sacred cow’ in SEA Games ruckus

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PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO/TOTO LOZANO

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will not spare organizers of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games from punishment if allegations of corruption against officials including his ally Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano are proven.

“There is no sacred cow in this government,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said at a briefing earlier. “Those who transgress the law will be accountable.” he added, noting that the Mr. Duterte has been known to fire friends and allies for corruption.

Mr. Cayetano heads the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee.

The palace said Mr. Duterte would investigate the mishaps reported about the SEA Games. The president earlier said during his recent trip to South Korea he wanted to investigate alleged corruption by the organizers.

“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,” Mr. Panelo said in a statement on Thursday.

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The Senate will investigate the alleged irregularities separately.

Meanwhile, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat on Wednesday met with officials of Metro Manila’s hotel industry to improve the services to SEA Games delegates after reports of logistical problems from foreign athletes.

“It is in situations like this that we are faced with the challenge of making our visitors’ stay in the country one of fun and fulfilling experience,” she said in a statement.

Also on Thursday Mr. Cayetano said he was ready to face a probe by the Senate.

He brushed off criticisms against the event, adding that he was ready to send a letter to the Commission on Audit (CoA) for “an independent special audit of all government funds used for the SEA Games.”

Mr. Cayetano also denied any conflict of interest about his position as Speaker and chairman of the organizing committee. Some congressmen in the past had associated themselves in sports, he said.

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson earlier said the transfer of P1.5 billion in public funds for the games from the Philippine Sports Commission to a private group headed by Mr. Cayetano was cast in the same mold as the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

The lawmaker said taxpayer money was “questionably” lodged in the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee, a private foundation created to oversee the country’s preparations and hosting of the biennial sports meet.

Meanwhile Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he had nothing to do with the P7.5-billion budget for the games that had been inserted in the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

On Tuesday, he tweeted that someone had asked him to keep the P7.5 billion in the DFA’s 2019 budget. Mr. Locsin said he ordered the funds returned to the Treasury bureau when he became Foreign Affairs chief in October last year. The SEA Games budget was inserted in the DFA budget for this year because Mr. Locsin’s predecessor, Mr. Cayetano, took on the role of lead organizer. — Gillian M. Cortez and Genshen L. Espedido

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