Race on to book EJ Obiena’s Team PH slot after Patafa drops Olympian
The battle to get EJ Obiena competing for the country in two major international competitions this year is officially on after the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) announced it was cutting ties with the world No. 5 pole vaulter.
In a statement to media offices on Friday, the Patafa said it was moving forward from the Obiena incident, saying the Tokyo Olympian had “chosen to remove himself from the jurisdiction of” the national federation.
“He decided to align, work with and avail himself of total support purportedly guaranteed by his patrons, agents, and political backers,” read the statement, which was signed by Patafa chair Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and president Philip Ella Juico.
The statement did not explicitly say whether the Patafa would officially enforce a recommendation by its board to drop Obiena from the national pool and pursue legal charges against the athlete, but it hinted that it was moving toward that direction when it said it will redirect its focus on its 50-strong athletics team as it prepares for the Southeast Asian Games in May.
Also slated this year is the Asian Games in September.
It will be now up to the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) to fight for Obiena’s slot in both meets. POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino vowed to suit Obiena up for both events.
Sports officials have been split on whether or not Obiena can compete for the country in major meets without backing from his national federation.
And the Patafa is leaving Obiena’s chances at the hands of the POC and his backers “to support his training, maintenance, medical needs, and compliance with requirements of tournament organizers.”
The federation also hinted that it was not dropping planned lawsuits against Obiena, who is being accused of misappropriation of government funds and filing false liquidation reports.
“[T]he Commission on Audit (COA) is conducting a special audit of transactions involving EJ Obiena and the PATAFA committee has completed its investigations and has submitted its recommendations to the Patafa board and has given its findings to PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) in compliance with the latter’s request,” the statement read.
“Even as PATAFA [considers] this Obiena case closed, with the COA doing a special audit, the PATAFA is constrained by law and policies to pursue legal options as identified by the committee which investigated the allegations against him,” added the statement.
The Patafa is in possession of liquidation reports that Obiena submitted which showed that the athlete had paid his coach, Vitaly Petrov, his salary regularly over several months even as the Asian record holder admitted that he only paid the legendary Ukrainian in three tranches late last year.
A source said this is the core of Patafa’s decision to pursue cases of misappropriation of funds and falsification of public documents against Obiena.
Another Inquirer source, however, said the initial review by state auditors of liquidation reports submitted by Obiena found nothing irregular.
The PSC had tried to mediate between both parties, but while the Patafa signed up for the process, Obiena declined, seeking a more public forum to what he claims is his bid to clear his name.
“We tried to talk to him and settle issues with him three times and made ourselves available for PSC’s mediation offers. But he spurred all these efforts even saying we were entering the mediation in bad faith. He took a different path, preferring to do things his way which we will respect,” the Patafa said.
The statement came on the heels of the decision of the POC to declare Juico persona non grata over his handling of the Obiena issue.