Obiena, Patafa rift nearing end as senators order both sides to enter mediation
Senators on Monday called on EJ Obiena and Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) president Philip Ella Juico to end their long-running feud during the joint legislative inquiry of the Senate committees on sports and finance, urging both parties to enter mediation to be brokered by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).
If the mediation finally transpires, the PSC will supervise the truce between the conflicting parties since the falling out began more than three months ago.
Senate Committee on Sports Chair Christopher Lawrence “Bong’’ Go presided over the public hearing that ran for five hours, where both Obiena and Patafa officials agreed to pursue negotiations toward reconciliation.
“I am all-in when it comes to that mediation. I trust our senators that it’s the best way, but of course, there should be a sign of reconciliation and a sign that they actually want this,’’ said Obiena, who was present online during the inquiry held in aid of legislation.
Currently ranked No. 5 in the world rankings, Obiena was recently dropped by the Patafa from its roll of national athletes, but House Deputy Speaker and Patafa chair Rufus Rodriguez made it clear that the Tokyo Olympian wasn’t expelled from the track and field association.
“Mediation has been tried twice already. If Obiena enters mediation, we are ready. We can go to mediation even tomorrow,’’ said Rodriguez during the hearing attended by Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon, senators Francis Tolentino, Pia Cayetano and Ronald “Bato’’ dela Rosa.
Juico and Patafa charged Obiena of not paying his Ukranian coach Vitaliy Petrov of his salary on time, showing documents that their star athlete released the salaries of Petrov worth 85,000 euros (over P5 million) only after two years, even though the PSC consistently disbursed the funding through Patafa on a monthly basis.
Obiena snapped back at Patafa and maintained that the delayed payment was not a crime. Petrov supported Obiena’s claim that he was already been paid in full.
“Mr. Juico has no power to tell COA (Commission on Audit) not to investigate, nor does this body have the authority to tell COA not to investigate anymore. My point is to leave the matter to the COA,’’ said Drilon.
“For the sake of the country, let’s find a way to settle the issue and put aside the matter of liquidation. If we can have a solution, let’s just help each other in the COA later on,’’ added Drilon.
PSC Chair William “Butch’’ Ramirez readily agreed to Drilon’s suggestion and told Juico and Obiena to end the rift by taking a step backward and be humble enough to patch things up.
“It is the COA which will determine whether there’s abuse, fraud or corruption. Forget about your [personal] issues, let’s listen to our senators. Humility is needed to settle this,’’ said Ramirez.
“Okay, let’s leave it to the hands of the COA. Let’s sit down and end this once and for all,’’ said Juico.
Cayetano said that more adequate guidelines on reimbursements and sponsorships of national athletes should be established by the PSC, while Tolentino has proposed a magna carta for athletes to protect and serve them even better.
Without the blessings of his mother association, Obiena would find it challenging to participate in events sanctioned by World Athletics, which recognizes Patafa as the nation’s governing body of the sport.
“Of course, the reinstatement will be reconsidered. That’s one of the options to be done after mediation under the auspices of our PSC Chair [William Ramirez], who’s been trying for a win-win solution since November,’’ said Rodriguez.
“That’s what we are seeking, we are willing to go into mediation as soon as possible,’’ he added.
The Patafa must endorse Obiena to the national team lineup bound for the coming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Vietnam, Asian Games in China this year and even the upcoming qualifying meets for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“In my understanding, putting me back as a national team member, I believe, is a sign of good faith. I’m willing to put this aside and continue to train and compete for our country in the next few years,’’ said Obiena.
Philippine Olympic Committee president and Rep. Abraham “Bambol’’ Tolentino said the Patafa should not deny Obiena the opportunity to defend his SEA Games gold medal in Vietnam in May as well as showcase his Asian record in the Asian Games later this year.
“What I really want is for me to be reinstated as a national athlete to be able to represent the Philippines and handle my funding and liquidation in a better system that would not go through me as I proposed before,’’ said Obiena.
“I’m more than willing to reconcile. My only worry is how sure am I that these things that happened now will never happen again. I want to compete and this has been affecting me in my preparations,’’ he added. INQ