The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association is actively participating in the mediation proceedings with pole vaulter, EJ Obiena, contrary to the allegation of four senators who filed a resolution to hold the entire PATAFA board in contempt for refusing to participate in the process.
The PATAFA clarified this on Saturday in response to an order issued by four senators asking the members of PATAFA’s board of trustees on Friday to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for allegedly reneging on a commitment to the Senate to participate in the mediation.
In a letter to Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, chairman of the Senate committee on sports and vice chair of the committee on finance, PATAFA said “it participated in the mediation moderated by Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez on March 7 and 14 and will participate in the third mediation on March 21.”
In fact, the PATAFA said, it was Obiena who asked for a postponement of the third meeting to March 21 because of what he said was a “prior scheduled travel and other commitments.”
In filing the resolution to cite the entire PATAFA board for contempt, Sen. Pia Cayetano said the national sports association violated its commitment to the mediation by filing a case in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland against Obiena and the Philippine Olympic Committee.
PATAFA clarified that the appeal was filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport by PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico, in his personal capacity, to appeal the POC decision which declared him “persona non grata.”
Filing cases in the Court of Arbitration for Sport is widely accepted by international sports bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee and the international federations, to settle disputes in sports.
The “persona non grata” declaration was an offshoot of the complaint filed by Obiena against Juico in response to the PATAFA investigation into charges that Obiena failed to pay the salary of his coach and falsified his reports on the liquidation of expenses incurred in training and competition in Europe for three years.
“PATAFA reiterates that it has always tried to be respectful of this Honorable Office and continues, in good faith and earnest efforts, in its commitment to both this Honorable Office and the PSC, to participate in the PSC initiated mediation,” the letter said.
The resolution filed by Sen. Cayetano was also signed by three other senators, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Sen. Francis Tolentino, brother of POC president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino.
The controversy started when Obiena was asked to explain discrepancies in his liquidation reports, including entries which showed that he had paid his Ukrainian coach, Vitali Petrov, his salary for three years.
The investigation was prompted by information from former world and Olympic pole vault record, holder Sergei Bubka and EJ’s Ukrainian coach, Petrov himself that he had not been paid his salary for three years starting 2018.
Records show that Obiena only paid Petrov in full in early November 2021 when he got wind of the on-going internal investigation. Obiena later refused to submit himself to the investigation and instead filed a complaint of harassment against Juico and the PATAFA board at the Athletes Commission of the POC. The complaint resulted in Juico being declared “persona non grata.”
Juico said the POC had no jurisdiction over an internal matter within the association, citing the letter of Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics the international governing body of athletics. Coe affirmed that the Obiena case was an internal matter and that it recognized PATAFA as the sole governing body of athletics in the Philippines.
In a press statement issued by PATAFA spokesperson Cristy Ramos on Thursday, PATAFA said only national sports associations are allowed by the law creating the Philippine Sports Commission to form national teams for international competition.
The statement was in reaction to the announcement of POC president Tolentino that the POC suspended PATAFA for 90 days and would take over its functions, including the forming of the national athletics team to the Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi in May.
Tolentino is expected to reinstate Obiena, who was not in the lineup submitted by PATAFA to the organizers of the Hanoi SEA Games. It is not clear how Tolentino, a rival of Juico in the 2019 POC election, could circumvent the PSC law and how the POC-formed national team can gain official sanction from World Athletics, the Asian Athletics Association and their affiliated federation in Vietnam to compete in the SEA Games.