The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has began making moves to heal the rift between pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena and his federation, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) via mediation, which could also get to the bottom of the controversy that has rocked the country’s sports scene.
PSC Chair William “Butch” Ramirez has forwarded a “mediation submission agreement’’ to both parties, confident that they will sign the document to initiate the process—a mode of alternative dispute resolution to assist the parties in resolving their dispute quickly and amicably.
“The role of the mediator is merely to facilitate communication, identify issues and help the parties arrive at a settlement. My role as mediator is not to decide who is right or wrong; we are after a win-win solution for both sides,’’ said Ramirez.
While Ramirez is adamant on not finding fault, the mediation could end up quashing all speculation as to the source of the conflict between Obiena and Patafa, especially with the star athlete declaring that the only resolution to the controversy would be the clearing of his name.
A source, who provided the Inquirer with a lot of background on the issue, but refused to be named because no official meeting has been held between the warring parties, said central to the resolution of the case will be one question: Did Obiena file official liquidation reports declaring he had paid legendary pole vault coach Vitaly Petrov his monthly dues of about 2,000 euros when no payment had yet been made?
Sources said Patafa has liquidation documents that state Petrov had been already paid, which would put Obiena, who admitted that he was behind in payments to Petrov because of his packed training and competition schedule, in a bind because that would mean he falsified documents.
World of explaining
But if Obiena did not file misrepresented reports, then the Patafa will have a world of explaining to do, since it has become evident that the Olympian and world No. 5 pole vaulter had already paid his coach in full. Petrov appeared with Obiena in the online press conference, backing his ward’s claim that he had been paid in full.
The Inquirer had also reported earlier that Obiena had already paid Petrov in three tranches, on Nov. 4, 5 and 9—the latest payment made nearly a week before Patafa fired off two official memos that accused Obiena of, among others, having “falsified the liquidations submitted to the Patafa” and utilizing “government funds requested to support your training since 2018” differently from “the purposes in which it was intended…”
Obiena hit back at Patafa in a press conference, hinting at retirement after accusing the federation of charging him with “embezzlement” and “theft.” The Patafa memos did not mention either word, but they did issue a demand for Obiena to return the 85,000 euros (around P4.8 million) of financial aid extended to him that was meant for Petrov, adding that the federation would freeze further financial aid pending the reimbursement of the amount.
The mediation agreement will formalize the official designation of the mediator, the rules to be applied, the language to be used and the place where the arbitration will be held.
In case no settlement would be reached within 30 calendar days from the time the mediation started, the dispute will be resolved by arbitration.
The PSC action comes at the heels of the Senate decision to ice the agency’s annual budget in reaction to the controversy and until the agency can resolve the matter—a development that weightlifting chief and former PSC commissioner Monico Puentevella warned could lead to the country’s suspension from key international meets.
“A word of caution. In case the PSC, which [the Senate has] blamed for lack of support to one single athlete, interferes with Patafa on this internal miscommunication between the official and their athlete, this would be construed by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) as government interference,’’ said Puentevella. “This could possibly suspend the Philippines from participating in the Olympics, in case an official complaint is sent for their perusal.’’
Preserve the relationship
And with the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) planning its own probe, an official communication on the matter sent to the IOC is not far-fetched.
Puentevella has hit the Senate’s move to freeze the PSC’s budget, calling the decision akin to burning “the whole house down” while “trying to find a rat.”
Ramirez did not tackle the Senate decision and said his worries are focused more on the personalities involved.
“The goal is to preserve the relationships of the disputing parties. I am worried about them both. EJ is carrying this burden all alone overseas, away from family and friends,’’ said Ramirez.
“I am also concerned about Mr. (Philip) Juico’s health. The earlier we can sit down and talk, the earlier we can resolve this.’’
Obiena is the country’s top athletics star, the Asian champion and the only one from the continent who is in the top 10 pole vaulters in the world.
The controversy has caused him to mull retirement, claiming that the Patafa no longer wants him in the national team.
That claim by Obiena has alarmed POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who has vowed to settle the mess so the University of Santo Tomas product can focus on making the podium in the Paris 2024 Olympics.
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