The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) expectedly wrote athletics chief Philip Ella Juico off its list of officials. It will now try to write pole vaulter EJ Obiena’s name in the entry list of international competitions.
The POC’s general assembly (GA) ratified a recommendation of its ethics committee to declare Juico persona non grata, shifting the issue swirling around the country’s finest athletics star ever to his participation in major international meets which require the imprimatur of his mother association.
“We are just following the procedure and there’s nothing personal here against Mr. Juico, and anytime EJ and Juico agree or EJ withdraws his complaint, the GA can revisit the executive board’s decision,” said POC president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino.
The decision was the first concrete move to try and end the controversy between Obiena and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa)—an attempt by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to manage the rift through mediation was torpedoed when Obiena refused to sign up for the process, citing bad faith on Patafa’s part.
But there is still a major loose end: The Patafa is sitting on a drafted recommendation that expelled Obiena from the national pool, one the federation held off from implementing when mediation was still on the table, and one that could deprive Obiena with the credentials to compete internationally.
“I’m worried about EJ. Let’s not make life harder for him,’’ said weightlifting chief Monico Puentevella—who cited by-laws governing national Olympic committees that, he added, “clearly states only [national sports associations or NSAs] or [international federations] can accredit athletes for international games.”
Patafa green light
Puentevella, for context, pointed to the POC’s failed attempt in 2005 and 2009 to field basketball and cycling entries respectively in international competition without the nod of their international federations.
Tolentino, however, is confident the POC can provide Obiena credentials to compete, citing “a provision in the IOC (International Olympic Committee) charter that emphasized the NOC’s (national Olympic committee) sole authority to submit the delegation proposed by its NSAs as the final list in all Olympic, regional, continental and world multi-sports events patronized by the IOC.’’
That battleground will come to the fore as the POC tries to list Obiena, a Tokyo Olympian and the reigning Asia record holder in pole vault, as part of the Philippine delegation to the Southeast Asian Games and the Asian Games, which were stuffed into this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Competitions sanctioned by World Athletics, like the Olympics and the Asiad, would require Obiena, the world’s No. 5 pole vaulter, to seek Patafa’s green light.
The Patafa has not announced yet what it plans to do with its decision delisting Obiena from the national pool, but in a statement, Juico said the POC decision will not “distract us in our quest for truth, accountability, transparency and justice in our federation.’’
Also in Patafa’s pocket right now are plans to file charges against Obiena in relation to accusations that triggered this controversy in the first place: That the athlete misappropriated public funds and filed false liquidation reports regarding those finances.
“If this is the price I have to pay for holding my athlete accountable, so be it. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I will step out of the POC with my head held high,’’ Juico added in his statement.
Tolentino explained that Juico will stay on as athletics president “for other matters but no longer recognized by the POC.’’
He likewise clarified that Patafa could still function as a national sports association under the POC.
A total of 54 regular NSAs attended the GA and then 36 affirmed the persona non grata on Juico, including athletes’ commission member and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting and swimmer Jessie Lacuna.
“He is still the Patafa president for other matters without recognizing him, but they still have their vice president and secretary general who can attend POC activities,’’ said Tolentino, pointing out that a full majority vote wasn’t necessary since the POC is not suspending or ousting Juico as Patafa chief.
The POC was merely ratifying a decision by its executive board based on a recommendation by the ethics panel that probed the issue on a complaint filed by Obiena.
Puentevella was among five federations that voted against the motion to ratify the executive board’s decision. Puentevella’s star athlete, Diaz, voted in favor of declaring Juico persona non grata. Diaz and Lacuna said their votes were in accordance with the stand of the Athletes’ Commission.
Eleven NSAs refused to vote.
International Olympic Committee executive board member Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski abstained, along with top officials from dancesports and netball.
“The process was railroaded. Again, there was no due process because there was no division of the house,’’ said Juico in his statement.
“Instead, the POC claimed that a pre-circulated resolution was signed by 36 POC members who affixed their signatures without any resolution having presented during the general assembly for voting and neither I nor several other POC members received this resolution as the same resolution to be voted on during the general assembly,’’ added Juico.
Tolentino said Juico was afforded due process in an earlier meeting the latter attended. Both parties were also requested to submit their position papers prior to the verdict of the ethics committee.
The rift between the NSA for track and field and its superstar athlete stemmed from Obiena’s late disbursement of salaries to his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov while they trained in Formia, Italy, in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.
Aside from the PSC, state auditors of the Commission on Audit are also scrutinizing the liquidation papers submitted by Obiena.