MANILA President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he believes in the integrity of his ally, House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who has been in hot water following the supposed blunders and irregularities in the Philippines' hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Cayetano, as the chairperson of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc), will not use the government funds earmarked for the biennial regional sports meet to engage in corrupt activities, Duterte said in a chance interview with Palace reporters.
"I am sure Cayetano is not involved in corruption," the President said.
"I could not think of corruption kasi ang mga head niyan, puro taga-gobyerno at (because the men who lead the Phisgoc are from the government and known to be) men of integrity," he added.
The government has allotted PHP6 billion for hosting the 2019 SEA Games from November 30 to December 11 this year.
The SEA Games has been dogged by concerns raised by foreign football teams who experienced transportation, accommodations, and other logistical issues ahead of the formal opening of the biennial regional multi-sport event.
The Phisgoc, led by Cayetano, has been heavily criticized for its supposed SEA Games' blunders.
Cayetano needs to explain
While Duterte expressed confidence that Cayetano would never be involved in corruption, the President acknowledged the need for the Phisgoc head to answer all the allegations hurled against the SEA Games organizers.
"Yes, he has to answer but I do not think corruption is [involved]," he said.
"I am not investigating Cayetano. I am just trying to find out because I think I said the money must not have been properly disbursed. I know that Cayetano could not handle everything. He has to delegate yung mga ganoon (the tasks to others)," Duterte added.
The President said he would order the probe after the SEA Games.
Duterte noted that the fact-finding committee will be composed of retired state auditors and prosecutors who are his "fraternity brothers."
"Let us investigate after and I assure you, I will investigate," he said.
Cayetano can inhibit self from House probe
On top of the investigation that will be carried out by Duterte's office, the Senate is also expected to look into the reported glitches that hound the preparations for the Games.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda on Wednesday said there was no need for the House of Representatives to probe the SEA Games mess since Cayetano is the top leader of the lower chamber of Congress.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, said Cayetano, a staunch ally of Duterte, can inhibit himself from the possible House inquiry.
"The Speaker can always inhibit himself from the investigation. There are so many Deputy Speakers. They can take over the podium, rostrum, and president," Panelo said in a Palace press briefing on Thursday.
"That's the call for a judgment on the part of the Speaker," the Palace official said.
While Cayetano is deemed as a government ally, there is "no sacred cow" under Duterte's speech, Panelo assured the public.
Panelo said SEA Games organizers, including Cayetano, would be held accountable if they indeed commit some irregularities.
"There is no sacred cow in this government. We've been repeatedly saying that those who transgress to law will be accountable," he said.
Earlier Thursday, Cayetano said he is ready to face any investigation into the controversies hounding the SEA Games.
To avoid repeat of such incidents, the Commander-in-Chief said he wants the military to take over the hosting of next international events.
Duterte made the pronouncement as he said the military are "better organizers."
"Itong mga ganito (These things) should be handled by the military men not because, well they are better organizers because the entire armed forces is one big organization and they are trained to be structural in thinking," he said.
"I will insist na (that) military (should be the organization) to handle it. The planners ng military, not the soldiers sa (in the) Infantry," Duterte added.
'Free' access to all games except basketball, volleyball
The President said he was also amenable to the proposal to allow Filipinos to have "free" access to all games, except basketball and volleyball.
"Kung ako, libre lahat (If I were to decide, I would make it free)," he said. "Senator [Christopher Lawrence] Go, he's whispering to me na pwede (that it's possible), except basketball and volleyball."
Around 8,750 athletes from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Timor Leste, Singapore, and Vietnam will compete in 56 sports.
The Philippines will field 1,085 athletes as part of its efforts to improve its sixth place in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
The biennial games will take place at the newly-built New Clark City Sports Hub in Capas, Tarlac; Subic, Zambales; Laguna; Batangas; Tagaytay; Imus; and Metro Manila at the newly-renovated Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
Tickets for the opening rites range from PHP1,000 to PHP12,000 while general admission tickets to competitions that will be held in other venues are sold for as low as PHP50.
Duterte rejects proposed class suspensions
In a separate chance interview, Go said he pitched to Cayetano the planned free viewing for all Filipinos.
"I think papayag naman ang ating organizers (I think the organizers will allow that)..., except basketball and volleyball)," the senator said. "Ini-enganyo natin ang lahat ng Pilipino na magkaisa tayo, manuod tayo (We are encouraging all Filipinos to watch and unite for our athletes)."
The President, however, thumbed down the proposal to suspend classes in Metro Manila to pave the way for the 12-day sports meet.
"That's too long... I do not agree. That is simply too long," Duterte said.
Duterte was invited to grace the formal opening ceremony at the Philippine Arena on November 30. (PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency