Sport

POC, PATAFA at odds?

POC, PATAFA at odds?

MANILA, Philippines — There appears to be a disagreement between PATAFA and POC with regard to the issues raised by the NSA alleging malversation, falsification of liquidation documents and qualified theft against Italy-based Olympic pole vaulter EJ Obiena. A five-man investigating committee has been formed by PATAFA to look into the charges, guaranteeing due process under the principle of good governance.

PATAFA president Philip Juico said yesterday the committee is composed of three members of the PATAFA board, an athlete and a coach. He deferred from commenting on the case so as not to put pressure on the committee. Juico described the committee as a fact-finding and independent group although it was created by PATAFA. “If EJ isn’t able to return home to face the charges, the committee will rely on the documents before them, not anecdotes,” he said. A PATAFA official, who declined to be identified, said Obiena could be “in serious trouble” if the committee finds basis to prove a scam by defrauding the government in an act of “simple corruption.”

But the allegation that Obiena misused coach Vitaliy Petrov’s salary was debunked when the Ukrainian himself appeared with the world No. 5 pole vaulter to issue a statement that he has been fully paid in a Zoom call from Italy the other day. A PATAFA official, however, claimed Petrov was paid his back wages by Obiena in installments only this month. Petrov’s salary is coursed through Obiena’s account. “I do not understand what (PATAFA) is doing and what good comes out of destroying a fine young man,” said Petrov. “It sets the Philippine track and field program back and this is a shame.”

Obiena said he was slandered by PATAFA’s accusations, demanding a public apology and retraction. “I only want to clear my name,” he said. “I’ve been accused of stealing. I have no idea what is PATAFA’s motivation in destroying my reputation.” In the Zoom call, Obiena said he welcomes a full and open accounting of the alleged misuse of funds, adding that he has brought up his grievance to the IOC, POC and World Athletics. Obiena said he has tapped the services of a PricewaterhouseCoopers auditor to go over the finances with the intent of publishing the report in the public domain.

POC president Cong. Bambol Tolentino said from his knowledge, Obiena is telling the truth. “Why damage the athlete?” he asked. “The truth will set him free if there’s a hidden agenda. I will help him even elevate this to the IOC.” POC deputy secretary-general Karen Caballero said Obiena is “in so much stress, nearing mental breakdown the past weeks … and has all the documents and copies of payments received.” Caballero said the Asian record holder doesn’t deserve the harassment and the matter will be taken up by the POC Athletes Commission before it is brought to the POC Ethics Commission’s attention.

POC Athletes Commission chairman Nikko Huelgas said the POC Safesport TWG will assist Obiena. “The POC will provide a lawyer and this will be passed on to the Ethics Commission for review as well,” he said. “POC Safesport TWG was just recently created to prevent harassment and abuse in sports. It was initiated by Meggie Ochoa and now, the policy is being finalized and approved and hopefully, we have safeguarding policies per NSA as led by safeguarding officers to really manage harassment and abuse and increase awareness.”