Row over Manila's $1.3m SEA Games 'casserole pot'

President Rodrigo Duterte has defended the cost of the cauldron, saying it was designed by a national artist.
President Rodrigo Duterte has defended the cost of the cauldron, saying it was designed by a national artist.PHOTO: BASES CONVERSION DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

Critics say money for cauldron could have gone to feeding, training athletes, education

A 50 million peso (S$1.34 million) cauldron that will be lit up during the 30th SEA Games from Nov 30 has sparked a nasty debate in the Philippines, with President Rodrigo Duterte wading in to defend the amount spent on it.

The 3m-wide cauldron was designed by National Artist for Architecture Francisco Manosa, who was paid 4.4 million pesos. The rest of the money went to the construction of the structure.

"There can never be corruption in that situation because you commissioned a national artist," Mr Duterte said during a late evening news conference on Tuesday. "It is the rendition of the mind of the creator."

"That was the price he set, and we acceded to it," he added.

Mr Alan Cayetano, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who also heads the Philippine SEA Games Organising Committee, had said earlier that the cauldron is "cheaper" than the one that host Singapore constructed for the 2015 Games.

"The cauldron that has been put in the spotlight is cheaper than what was built by Singapore four years ago, (at) 63 million pesos. That one was not even designed by a national artist," he told reporters.

Critics, however, have taken to calling it an "Imeldific casserole pot", referring to the former first lady Imelda Marcos, who is known for her extravagant, often wasteful, spending that drew accusations of massive corruption when her husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was in power.

During deliberations on the government's budget, opposition senator Franklin Drilon said: "For 50 million pesos, you want to have a casserole. It's a question of propriety. With 50 million pesos, we did away with 50 classrooms, in exchange for a casserole."

Athlete Gretchen Malalad, who won a gold medal for karate at the 2005 SEA Games, said the money could have gone to feeding and training the country's competitors.


"The athletes don't need a 50 million peso cauldron. Come on! It should have just been added to the athletes' food budget or training," she said in a Twitter post.

Ms Malalad lamented that most of the Philippines' top athletes had to make do with the meagre resources from the government.

"No budget! No budget! It wasn't approved. That's what our athletes keep hearing when they request funds for training and exposure abroad. But the government has a budget for a 50 million peso casserole," she said.

One of Mr Duterte's loudest critics was also on the offensive.

"Good grief!" said singer Leah Navarro, a supporter of former president Benigno Aquino. "50 million for an unimpressive, ugly, one-time use butane lighter? Damn the shameless overpricing of this government," she posted on Twitter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2019, with the headline 'Row over Manila's $1.3m SEA Games 'casserole pot''. Print Edition | Subscribe