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Philippines Senator slams “extravagant” SEA Games spending, $1m cauldron under spotlight

A ₱50m ($1m) cauldron commissioned for the Southeast Asian Games, which will be held in the Philippines next week, has sparked controversy over its cost.

The 3m-wide cauldron was designed by the country’s National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa, who was paid ₱4.4m. The rest of the ₱50m went on construction.

Philippines Senator Franklin Drilon questioned the large expense of the cauldron, which will only be used once to hold the SEA Games flame during the 30th edition of the tournament, saying: “I am not even talking about overpricing. I’m talking about propriety.”

The Senator has since said he will file a resolution after the SEA Games to ask for a Senate probe over the “extravagant” SEA Games expenses.

Filipino athlete Gretchen Malalad, who won a gold medal in karate at the 2005 SEA Games, said in a Twitter post that most of the country’s top athletes had to make do with meagre resources from the government for their training and expenses, and that the money used for the cauldron could be better spent.

Both President Rodrigo Duterte and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano have defended the money spent on the cauldron, saying it was a “work of art”.

President Duterte said: “There can never be corruption in that situation because you commissioned a national artist. It is the rendition of the mind of the creator.”

Cayetano, the chairman of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC), said to local media: “While some people see it as a cauldron, we see a monument. We see the athletes, we see the burning flames that represent hope and the fighting spirit. We think it is just appropriate.”

Aside from the cauldron, the SEA Games budget has also faced questions from the Philippines’ Congress, over questions over why its ₱1.5bn budget spend did not undergo public bidding, as well as other “impractical” spending.

Cayetano said the ₱1.5bn SEA Games budget being run by PHISGOC would be used for broadcast expenses, talent fees, ocular site visits, special meetings, workshop and training, medical requirements, fixtures, and other operating expenses. Cayetano added that currently, ₱700m had been disbursed and that the remaining ₱800m would be “more or less” spent before the opening of the games on November 30.