MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - Organizers of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games ignored a warning from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos to ensure that delegates from Islamic countries are served halal food during the games, an NCMF official claimed Tuesday.
Dimapuno Alonto Datu Ramos Jr., NCMF director for external relations, said he gave the warning during an inter-agency meeting on the SEA Games at the Philippine International Convention Center last September.
"It was the first and last time that the NCMF was formally summoned to coordinate with the [Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee] and other agencies," he said in an ABS-CBN News interview.
"'Yung sa halal, pinagpasa-pasahan kami...Parang kami pa 'yung naghahabol sa kanila. I warned them during the plenary session, nandun si [former] senator (and PHISGOC chairperson) Alan Peter Cayetano and other government agency heads. Noted lang. Rinefer kami sa [Philippine Sports Commission] and PHISGOC and then wala na talaga that time."
The lack of halal food for Muslim athletes in the SEA Games came to the fore after Singapore Chef De Mission Juliana Seow wrote a letter to PHISGOC COO Ramon Suzara about insufficient halal food and very limited food options at Century Park Hotel where Singapore athletes are staying.
According to the letter, a story of which was published by The Straits Times, some of the athletes had to order food outside the hotel just to have a full meal.
"They had to order outside food to complete their meal and as you may already know, nutrition is a very important part of the preparation and our athletes are starving," the letter to Suzara read.
Kikiam also became a Twitter trending topic on Monday after Let Dimzon, the coach of the Philippine women's football team, revealed that the non-halal street food was served to athletes.
A New Straits Times report, meanwhile, said the Malaysian delegation was able to anticipate potential problems after learning from SEA Games organizers that halal food will only be available from November 26 onwards at the hotels.
"Halal food is a big problem for those staying in hotels right now as it is difficult to get. We knew about this, so we gave out instant nutritious food which only needed to be heated up for the athletes and officials," National Sports Council (NSC) director general Datuk Seri Ahmad Shapawi Ismail was quoted as saying.
In the interview, Ramos said the NCMF, with its 11 regional and 5 provincial offices, has the "capacity to provide manpower and expertise" to solve the problem of lack of halal food.
"Catering to the needs of the Muslim athletes is very important. Since we are hosting an international event, it is a showcase of the entire country. Tayong lahat may accountability," he said.
He said the NCMF can conduct halal training on institutions catering to the athletes. A food app that identifies restaurants serving halal food was also launched recently, with the help of the NCMF.
"Dapat may coordination, tutal gobyerno naman tayo. Dapat tulong tulong. Napapansin ko dun, ang kino-coordinate nila mga private institution. Dapat Muslim government agency dahil meron kami accountability. Nakakadismaya," he said.
He added that he is also willing to testify if Congress investigates how the SEA Games budget was spent. "In-ignore kami. Sayang. Sana mayroong congressional investigation after the games. Willing naman tayo na magtestify," he said.
ABS-CBN News has reached out to PHISGOC for comment but has yet to receive a response as of posting time.