MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) on Tuesday vowed to keep supporting pole vaulter EJ Obiena, who is set to be dropped from the national training pool of the country's athletics federation.
Obiena, a Tokyo Olympian, was found to have misappropriated funds by an investigative committee formed by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA). The committee recommended the pole vaulter's expulsion from the PATAFA national training pool, as well as the filing of an estafa case against the athlete.
"I expected (that) EJ will be dropped from the national team by his NSA (national sports association) as a vengeful act," POC president Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino said.
The POC had earlier declared PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico as "persona non grata," with its Ethics Committee finding that Juico had "harassed" Obiena by making "malicious public accusations."
"The action of Mr. Juico in removing EJ Obiena from the national pool is an expected result of his expose -- a vengeful act that shuts down the chances of the Philippines from its Olympic dream," said Tolentino.
"The POC has made an evaluation of this, and I am sorry that we cannot make our cards public. Suffice it to say that we are created for the Olympic dreams of our athletes, and we will support our athletes in achieving their dreams," he added.
Tolentino stressed that the POC will continue to support Obiena, who holds both the national and Asian records for his event and was the lone Asian to make the pole vault final in the Tokyo Olympics in August 2021.
"We in the POC will make sure EJ will be in Hanoi and Hangzhou, and in all other major world competitions. We'll fight for EJ," said Tolentino.
Hanoi is hosting the 31st Southeast Asian Games in May, and Hangzhou, China is the venue for the Asian Games in September. Obiena is the defending SEA Games champion in pole vault and is the favorite to win gold in the Asiad as well.
According to Tolentino, it will now be up to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) if it will allow Obiena to be removed from the national team.
"The ball is now with the PSC," he said. "Will the PSC allow EJ to be stricken off from the national team? Will the government allow a world-class athlete to be out of the national team?"
"Being the Asian record holder, No. 6 in the world and No. 3 best performer in 2021, will the PSC allow one gold medal to be lost in Hangzhou, long before the Asian Games?" he added.
"Will sports stakeholders -- the public, especially -- allow EJ to be out of the national team?" Tolentino added.
He also challenged the PSC to remain true to its mandate: "To act as the final caretaker of athletes when an oppressive NSA is apparently shutting its doors to world-class athletes."
Tolentino said the POC will do what it can to ensure that Obiena can keep representing the Philippines, and will explore their options regarding this matter.
"The NSA has the right to recommend or not, endorse or not its athletes for international competitions," Tolentino conceded. "But there's a provision in the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Charter allowing NOCs to endorse athletes."