gamboa 1 - Elections and the economy

Global stock markets reacted positively to Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election over incumbent President Donald Trump. Of the world’s 195 sovereign nations, 158 have already congratulated Biden, including the Philippines. Only four countries (Russia, Belarus, Brazil, and Mexico) declined to recognize him as the President-elect.

A standalone federal arm of the US government, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an official statement last week that “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” CISA was established in 2018 through a law signed by Trump – whose tacit acknowledgement of Biden’s victory was made via Tweeter over the weekend saying “he won because the election was rigged.”

However, Trump’s efforts to fight the outcome in the courts have repeatedly been turned back. His allegations about election fraud remain unsubstantiated, and even his favorite network, Fox News, has declared Biden the winner. All roads lead to the Electoral College on December 14 when the new US President and Vice President will be officially announced.

 Closer to home, an electoral battle is also raging – though on a smaller scale. I’m referring to the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) election on November 27 when two contending tickets fight for control of the country’s umbrella organization of national sports associations (NSAs).

For several decades now, the POC has been embroiled in factional infighting. Although it is a private organization, its member-NSAs receive government subsidies and many of their officers are current or former public officials. The International Olympic Committee recognizes the POC as having the sole authority to represent the Philippines in the Olympics, Asian Games, and Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

But during the country’s hosting of the 30th SEAG a year ago, the POC was sidelined when President Rodrigo Duterte assigned the Philippine SEAG Organizing Committee (Phisgoc) to oversee preparations for the 11-nation multi-sports event. Then House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano was Phisgoc’s chairman, under whose leadership the New Clark City (NCC) sports complex in Tarlac was constructed as the main venue of the 2019 SEAG at par with Olympic standards.

NCC will also be the site of the National Academy of Sports (NAS), Cayetano’s pet project that will provide secondary education to athletes through a curriculum intended to improve its students’ performance in sports. Republic Act No. 11470 created the NAS and was signed in June by Duterte, who appointed NAS Executive Director Josephine Joy Reyes to jumpstart the academy.

The success of the biennial competition set the bar for future regional and international sports events to be hosted by the Philippines. At that time, Filipinos’ positive outlook for the economy in 2020 was bolstered by the general mood of optimism after our athletes won the 2019 SEAG overall championship, only to be dashed by the unexpected crisis spawned by COVID-19.

Right after the 30th SEAG ended, the Office of the Ombudsman announced it would conduct a fact-finding probe into the event hosting. For some reason, the results have not been released up to now. But calls for further investigation of alleged irregular deals involving the SEAG hosting have again surfaced lately. The former speaker has stood his ground that there were no anomalies involved in Phisgoc’s management of SEAG funds.

In an interview, Cayetano expressed openness to an investigation that would lead to formal charges and presentation of evidence along with the opportunity to air his side. He even committed to resign from Congress if proven beyond reasonable doubt that he mishandled the funds.

Against this backdrop, the POC has made an issue out of the Phisgoc controversy, zeroing in on the delayed submission of its audited financial report. Cayetano’s camp lamented that “crab mentality” and rampant politicking are among the reasons for the decades-long stagnation of Philippine sports.

It should not be surprising that Phisgoc has become the whipping boy of one of the contending parties in the POC election next week. Ironically the supposed bastion of sportsmanship has not practiced its own advocacies of fairness, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors. Whatever the outcome, the POC’s top officials should get their acts together in the same way that everyone cooperated during last year’s SEAG with the theme of “We Win As One.”

If the US and POC elections are sneak previews of the next Philippine general elections, we as a nation must unite to prevent polarization from escalating in the run-up to 2022. The series of calamities that recently struck various regions should serve as warning signs to stop these endless bickerings. Harmonious relations will certainly contribute to our country’s development on the road to post-pandemic economic recovery.

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