Obiena reveals late remittances during house appearance
MANILA, Philippines–Pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena said he has records to prove that a lot of his financial assistance were transmitted late, even as he continued defending himself against what he called a besmirching “of my good name” during an appearance before the House committee on Youth and Sports Development on Tuesday.
“My records will show that I have received my funds late, sometimes months, months, late,” Obiena told lawmakers, adding that he has been regularly liquidating his expenses.
Obiena’s liquidation reports will be central to the resolution of the controversy that has driven a wedge between the Tokyo Olympian and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa), which ordered the athlete to return 85,000 euros representing the salary of his Ukrainian coach, the legendary pole vault star maker Vitaly Petrov.
His revelation of late remittances could exculpate him from liability arising from wrongly filed auditing forms.
Obiena has also asked lawmakers to “examine the system” within the National Sports Associations (NSAs), especially with the way these federations handle finances.
“I will ask you (lawmakers) to help to examine the system and enact appropriate laws that will clean up the way the NSA is run. I pray that their finances be managed and dispersed more efficiently and more effectively,” he said.
Obiena made the plea even as he admitted that his funding has been frozen in light of the controversy, something that Patafa had said it would do when it fired off two memos to the athlete regarding the alleged nonpayment of Petrov.
Obiena and Petrov have since released statements that payment had already been completed, but the dates of the payments will need to match liquidation reports the pole vaulter has submitted.
Obiena has said he is confident a thorough investigation on the issue will clear his name.
“I am not a thief,” he told lawmakers.
Obiena said that on Nov. 15, he received two letters from Patafa asking him to return within 48 hours 85,000 euros corresponding to the entire amount for Petrov for his services from 2018 to 2021 and “to explain why I should not be removed from the national training pool.”
Obiena said Patafa, led by its president Philip Juico, had already judged him as guilty and “assumed that I stole the money.”
“I was portrayed as an embezzler, and a thief. I am not a thief. I am a Filipino athlete and I have my dignity. I am an athlete and my mission is to train and compete for the Philippines and for the Filipino people,” he added.
The memos, copies of which the Inquirer had obtained, did not specifically charge Obiena with embezzlement and theft, but used wordings that could be misconstrued as such.
“Mr. Juico and the Patafa besmirched my good name in public without even giving an opportunity to be heard. I could not comply with the first request of returning old funds because all of the money was already paid to my coach from prior months and years of service with the majority of the amount paid months before,” he said.
During the online appearance, Obiena, who has been based in Italy, said he is “wondering how I can even pay my living and training expenses” now that his financial assistance has been cut off.
Still, Obiena said he would not abandon the Philippines and will continue to wear the country’s colors.
“I want my name cleared in public, I want to continue to jump and represent for the Philippines,” he said.
Manila Rep. Manuel Lopez, who was present during the hearing, urged Obiena and Patafa to “go back to the negotiation table, mediate, and reconcile because this will not be good for all parties involved.”