PATAFA drops Obiena from nat'l team, to file estafa case against Olympian

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 04 2022 11:22 AM | Updated as of Jan 04 2022 02:27 PM

Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena. File photo
Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena. File photo

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Olympic pole vaulter EJ Obiena is set to be dropped from the national training pool of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) after the conclusion of its investigation into the athlete.

The PATAFA on Tuesday unveiled the results of its investigation into Obiena's alleged non-payment of coaching fees to his coach, Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov, as well as his falsification of liquidation documents. 

The allegations first came to light in November, with Obiena flatly denying the accusations against him and calling the PATAFA's actions a "textbook example of how to destroy an athlete."

In a press conference, the PATAFA produced a timeline of the situation, starting with a September 9 call among PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico, Petrov, and Sergey Bubka, the former Olympic pole vault champion who is now the president of Ukraine's national Olympic committee. It was there that Petrov alleged that he has not been paid his coaching fees; the PATAFA went on to secure signed affidavits from both Petrov and Bubka.

In November, it was revealed that PATAFA ordered Obiena to return a sum of 85,000 euros, alleging that the pole vaulter did not pay the money to his coach. However, Obiena and Petrov both denied the allegations, with Petrov insisting that he has been fully paid by the pole vaulter.

According to the PATAFA findings, Petrov was paid an amount of 85,026.80 euros from September 20, 2020, to November 9, 2021. However, 66% of this amount was paid from the period of November 4-9, 2021.

"Obviously, the remittances/transfers… were resorted to in order to cover the irregularities committed by EJ Obiena and to make it appear that Mr. Petrov was paid his coaching fees, when in fact he was not," the PATAFA said.

Based on their findings, the PATAFA committee concluded that Obiena had "misappropriated the amount of 61,026.80 euros… which were released to him by the PATAFA and the Philippine Sports Commission as payment for the coaching fee of Mr. Petrov."

His mother, former PATAFA auditor Jeanette Obiena, was also found to have misappropriated the amount of P624,116.76.

Given their findings, the PATAFA committee recommended that Obiena be dropped from the national training pool, effective immediately.

The PATAFA also intends to file a criminal complaint of estafa against Obiena over the amount of 6,000 euros, which were supposed to cover Petrov's coaching fee from the period of May 2018 to August 2018.

A complaint will be filed against Petrov before World Athletics for violating the Integrity Code of Conduct. The PATAFA also intends to immediately terminate Petrov as a coach, while Obiena's adviser, American businessman James Lafferty, will be declared as a persona non grata.

The PATAFA's full recommendations against Obiena.
The PATAFA's full recommendations against Obiena.

The recommendations have been approved by the PATAFA's Board of Trustees but have yet to be implemented, according to Juico.

"The recommendations have just been made public today. We will have to sit down to work out the mechanics, the procedures," he said. "People will have to be notified, arrangements will have to be made. It is not an instant thing that we can do."

The report of the PATAFA Investigative Committee will be sent to both the PSC and the Commission on Audit. It remains to be seen if those agencies will also file charges against Obiena.

Juico lamented the situation, noting that he has known Obiena since he was a teenager and was in fact the one to introduce the pole vaulter to Bubka in 2014, paving the way for him to work with Petrov in Formia, Italy.

"The report brought so much sadness and feelings of betrayal. But we have to face the challenge because we should account for all the funds, government and private, given we have a responsibility over showing of all moral, ethical considerations," he said.

"So the board has accepted all the recommendations of the Administrative Committee that includes removing the 26-year-old young man, who knew the consequences of what he was doing, as he repeatedly produced those spurious documents. He now has to face the consequences," he added.

Juico was recently declared persona non grata by the Philippine Olympic Committee in light of his feud with Obiena.

According to PATAFA chairman Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Obiena was asked repeatedly by the administrative committee to explain his side of the situation, but the pole vaulter opted not to do so.

"Obiena has been given three instances for him to appear," Rodriguez said. "But he did not."

On December 24, Obiena also declined the PSC's offer to mediate between himself and PATAFA. The PSC withdrew its offer on December 27, saying: "The agency leaves the mediation table, respecting the decision of Mr. Obiena who chose to submit to procedures conducted by other institutions."

The PSC has yet to respond to PATAFA's recommendations.

Obiena, 26, was one of 19 Filipinos to compete in the Tokyo Olympics last year, and the lone Asian to reach the pole vault final where he placed 11th overall. In September 2021, he set a new Asian record in the discipline when he cleared 5.93-meters at the 2021 Golden Roof Challenge in Austria.