MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) on Monday insisted that its Ethics Committee "acted within its inherent power" when it recommended that PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico be declared as persona non grata.
On December 28, the POC approved the recommendation of its Ethics Committee to declare Juico as persona non grata, in what was an offshoot of the PATAFA president's ongoing feud with Olympic pole vaulter EJ Obiena.
Juico vowed to challenge the POC decision, and maintained that the agency does not have a legal right to interfere in what he has called an "internal issue" between PATAFA and its athlete.
"The basic thing is, we do not recognize it. It's null, it's illegal because wala silang jurisdiction, and we will bring this up to our international federation, and to the International Olympic Committee," Juico said in an interview on CNN Philippines, Monday.
The POC, in a statement, countered Juico's assertion while also insisting that they are putting a premium on Obiena's welfare when they approved the recommendation of its Ethics Committee.
"If a president of a member NSA [national sports association] is not in one with the aim and purpose of the POC to protect and take care of the welfare of the athletes, then he or she does not deserve the recognition of POC … as simple as that," POC president Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino said.
"As far as the POC is concerned, the Ethics Committee acted within its inherent power which is to determine if the conduct of a member of POC, specifically the president of the PATAFA, is ethical, professional and acceptable to the organization which he belongs to," he added.
According to Tolentino, the Ethics Committee is a standing committee of the POC, as provided for in the agency's bylaws. Its sole purpose is the conduct of its members.
"After the Ethics Committee found that Mr. Juico’s conduct is unethical, the [POC] Executive Board merely adopted its recommendation," said Tolentino.
"The Executive Board did not penalize the NSA, in fact, he was not removed, suspended or reprimanded," he added.
PATAFA is still recognized by the POC as the national sports association for track and field, despite its decision to sanction Juico. Other PATAFA officers are also still recognized by the agency.
Tolentino insists that the POC has the prerogative to declare anybody a "persona non grata," meaning that the person is unacceptable to the agency.
"Based on the complaint and evidence presented, his [Juico] conduct towards Obiena, who is a very promising athlete, is unethical and violative of the provisions of the bylaws of POC specifically on uplifting the level of performance of Filipino athletes," he explained.
The 26-year-old Obiena was one of 19 athletes to represent the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics, reaching the finals of the pole vault where he placed 11th overall. In September 2021, he set a new Asian record when he cleared 5.93-m at the International Golden Roof Challenge in Innsbruck, Austria.
Tolentino further explained that the POC's legal team has already stressed that Juico did not answer the accusations against him, and is instead "defending himself using (a) jurisdictional issue."
Juico, in his interview on CNN Philippines, acknowledged that the POC reached out to him during its investigation, and he made an appearance in front of the Ethics Committee. However, he only did so to make it clear to the committee that they "do not recognize this."
"We do not recognize this hearing, this proceedings, because wala kayong pakialam dito. This is an internal matter between our member, our athlete, and us. And there is an investigative committee looking into this, and your own constitution says pabayaan niyo muna 'yung NSA (to) settle the internal matter, before you jump in as the final arbiter," said Juico.
However, Tolentino said that Obiena's complaint "is not an intra-NSA dispute."
"It's all about the conduct of Mr. Juico as president of the PATAFA on the way he treated an athlete," said Tolentino, who defeated Juico for the POC presidency in July 2019, winning 24 votes to Juico's 20.
"He (Juico) should actually be thankful that he was given the opportunity to clear his side but he opted not to and instead hide on jurisdictional issue," he added.
"Any organization cannot be forced to accept a person who is not acceptable to the organization. A persona non grata is a person not acceptable to POC."
Juico, who was re-elected as PATAFA president in November 2021, said he was amused but not surprised by the POC decision.
"At the same time, I feel regret that some people, otherwise good people, are forced to do not good things... because they have been instructed to do so," he said.
"They have no other recourse but to comply, because they have been instructed to do so, and they want to remain in the good graces of the person giving the instruction. So I sympathize with them," he added.