The vigorous social media campaign that began last week to defend the preparations for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games — and not coincidentally organize support for Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, the beleaguered chair of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee or Phisgoc — has a reality problem and a perception problem. The reality is: The lack of preparation and the display of incompetence have been thoroughly documented, not only by Philippine but also by other Southeast Asian news organizations. And the campaign’s perception-shaping objective suffered a serious complication when President Duterte, the same president many of these social media operators supported and campaigned for and spread disinformation on behalf of in and since 2016, apologized for the organizers’ embarrassing shortcomings.
“You cannot just cast away all those, the discomfort, the sufferings of the athletes… sleeping on the floors, waiting for so many hours, getting hungry… This might really be a small matter but you just cannot flick your fingers, ‘Ah, maliit ’yan (Ah, thatâ€™s trivial),’” the President told CNN Philippines the day before the opening ceremonies.
“I’m really apologizing for the country. But then again I said they should know while they are still here that government is not happy with it and that their president, the president of the country where they are playing, has ordered… an investigation,” he said.
On this first, basic, political measure, that of embarrassing the host president enough to force him to issue apologies, Cayetano as chief organizer is already to blame. That is simple command responsibility. (It also violates the first rule of bureaucratic survival: Don’t put the boss in a bad light.)
Even as the social media campaign to declare #SEAgames2019notafailure was already underway, some of the President’s staunchest supporters were dropping hints against Cayetano. (My own hypothesis is that the Cayetano family’s social media volunteers, already a presence in Cayetano’s campaign for vice presidency in 2016, have now been augmented by elements of the Duterte social media army.) One ally suggested, without naming the Speaker, that the organizers’ incompetence was caused by Cayetano’s overweening ambition — symbolized by Cayetano’s recent attempt to trash his term-sharing agreement, for the speakership of the House of Representatives, with Rep. Lord Allan Velasco. Also without naming Cayetano, the President’s own outspoken daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, took the incompetent organizing as fact, and suggested it was characteristic of the politician she did not support for speaker. “May I just say to everyone in Congress,” the mayor posted on Instagram, “I told you but you did not listen so there you go.”
On a second, indeed essential measure, that of failing in fact to prepare adequately for a major international event, Cayetano as chief organizer is also to blame. Except for a year and a half as foreign secretary (which was not without its controversies), he has had no executive or administrative or organizing experience to speak of. And it shows. Aside from the documented instances of failures, we are now hearing about internal warnings and recriminations shared among the leaders, staff, and key volunteers of the organizing committee and its many agencies; it is only a matter of time before these dire, desperate messages, posted by patriotic Filipinos who were worried about a disaster-in-the-making, will see the light of day. The true magnitude of Phisgoc’s incompetence will become clear; as for allegations of corruption, it is only a matter of time before the scale of the alleged overpricing will overwhelm even our notorious capacity to forgive. And to think that the Duterte administration hosted the much more complicated Asean 2017 meetings in exemplary fashion. (The ancient Greeks understood one fundamental rule of human survival very well. “Hubris” can be explained simply: Don’t bite off more than you can chew.)
On a third measure, that of making the problem even worse, Cayetano as chief organizer is also and mostly to blame. Instead of a becoming humility and a public pledge to work harder than ever to regain the people’s trust, he launched an attack on the media and on four “social media groups,” which he said were responsible for “sabotage.” (He has since backtracked on his allegations against the media.) The problems of the Games as organized by Cayetano’s group were not created by news stories; rather, the initial social media posts, and then the news stories that followed in their wake, were based on documented proof of organizing incompetence. No amount of social media army “operations” can counter that truth — especially now that President Duterte has already confirmed it. (A vital rule of political survival: Don’t make more trouble than you’re worth.)
It is highly possible that one more game will be played after the 30th SEA Games comes to a close, perhaps when Congress returns after the Christmas break: that of thrones. The Speaker’s throne, to be exact.
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On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
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