Spitting in the wind

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Greg B. Macabenta

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The 2019 Southeast Asian Games being hosted by the Philippines have been a showcase of Pinoy sports achievements, showbusiness production excellence, and organizational incompetence all rolled into one portrait of a people who do not seem to know whether to feel proud or embarrassed about ourselves.

Before the regional sports competition had officially begun, kibitzers in social and mainstream media had joined the chorus of political naysayers and overseas critics pointing out everything wrong with the event, from twin toilets without dividers, to competition venues still being rushed in time for the starting guns.

Overall games organizing committee chairman, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, found himself apologizing for logistical problems cropping up, while rationalizing the expenditures for the event.

Cayetano was mercilessly twitted for living up to his name, Peter (as in Peter Principle), for taken on a function beyond his level of competence. It was bad enough that news reporters around the Southeast Asian region had begun piling on bad commentaries on the event, but what made it worse was the way the proverbial Monday night quarterbacks, characterized by Senator Franklin Drilon, so hypocritically displayed their populist concerns by suggesting that the money spent on the event could have been more properly used for schoolhouses and other facilities for the hapless Philippine citizenry.

Was Drilon trying to rack up “pogi points” or merit badges for a run as Senator of Southeast Asia? Otherwise, why dig up the issue when it was too late to do anything about it? And, of all times, just when foreign guests are around.


But then, the opening ceremonies reeled off in spectacular fashion and suddenly folks were saying they were “Proud to be Pinoy.”

Indeed, the opening ceremonies — a mandatory showcase of the Olympics and other international competitions — were a class act. And people who were ashamed about twin toilets, junk food, poor lodging, and inadequate transportation facilities were beating their breasts with pride over the lavish entertainment that the opening music, dances, and marches provided.

And then the Games began — and Filipino athletes began harvesting gold medals faster than any other country. The headlines took on a positive turn in Philippine media. But the pre-game negative reports of international media had already etched themselves in the minds of people in the Asian region.

This begs the questions. How is an overseas Filipino supposed to think about his native land? With pride or with embarrassment?

As a Pinoy residing overseas, my suggestion is to take the advice of a German friend of mine who recounted how his people took criticism and praise.

“When you do something bad, slap yourself on the face,” came the advice. “But when you do something good, pat yourself on the back.”

Indeed, the 2019 SEA Games provide a lot of reasons for back-patting and for self-slapping. But as a Proud Pinoy, I don’t mind saying that a sports competition is about sports, most of all, and if you were to host the best organized international competition of all time but fail to win a solitary medal, you have every reason to jump into the toilet and flush yourself right in.

In other words, even if the organizers have been no better than the Keystone Kops, there is reason to feel good about hosting an international sports competition where the Philippines leads in the medal harvest.

Pat the athletes and coaches on the back.

On the other hand, anyone who has the gall to offer to host and organize an international event — whether of the sporting or the political or the economic kind — had better be prepared to admit faults, flaws, and missteps, the better for the disasters never to happen again.

Slap yourselves on the face. And learn a lesson from it. Such as assigning the job to organizational experts.

There’s nothing you can do about the brickbats from the foreign media. If they’re telling the truth, let the country and Cayetano take their lumps.

About the kibitzers — like the presidential daughter who thinks that Dennis and Rene Garcia’s song “Manila” should not have been used as the theme for the entrance of the Philippine team, my suggestion is for her to offer to host an international event in Davao and then commission a theme song for the occasion. Otherwise, leave the choice of music to the entertainment committee.

And my suggestion to Senator Drilon is for him to hold his high-falutin’ noble populist ideas about using funds for school rooms instead of a SEA Games cauldron for when the event is over and all the foreign guests have gone home.

There is a time and place for spitting in the wind. Otherwise, you’ll end up showering in your own saliva.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.