Obiena reaffirms dedication to Philippines amid PATAFA rift

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 05 2022 12:18 PM | Updated as of Jan 05 2022 03:16 PM

EJ Obiena

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) Olympic pole vaulter EJ Obiena remains "very committed" to representing the Philippines even as his feud with his own national sports association (NSA) deepens.

The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), the country's governing body for athletics, announced on Tuesday that Obiena will be dropped from the national training pool. They also intend to file an estafa case against the pole vaulter, after an investigation conducted by PATAFA found that Obiena had misappropriated funds.

Obiena, who holds the national and Asian record in pole vault, said he is "ready to face all cases and charges" filed against him, calling PATAFA's action a "baseless witch hunt."

Obiena, who was the lone Asian to make the pole vault finals in the Tokyo Olympics last year, also reiterated that he wants to continue competing for the Philippines, and is more inspired than ever to represent the country.

"My pole will be my platform. My every jump is my defiance to everything that is wrong in the sport. And an affirmation that the Filipino is tough, enduring, loyal and will stand up for what is right and true," Obiena said in a statement posted on his social media accounts.

"I do not jump for Mr. Philip Ella Juico or the PATAFA. I jump for my beloved nation," he stressed. "Ako ay atletang Pilipino. Tumatalon ako para sa Pilipinas at sa lahat ng aking kababayan."

Speaking on CNN Philippines on Wednesday morning, Obiena insisted that he is not second-guessing his decision to continue representing the Philippines.

The pole vaulter had previously confirmed that he has received offers from other countries to switch federations, even before the issues with PATAFA arose.

However, he reiterated to Sports Desk host Andrei Felix that he is "very committed to representing the Philippines."

"As I said, this is a privilege to wear this vest, to wear the Philippine flag around my chest. That's why, that's my single-hand direction, and that is why I'm still fighting," Obiena said.

"I believe that, I would have that opportunity to do that, and that's why I'm still fighting to do that. I'm not thinking twice about my reason or my decision of representing this great nation that I was born and raised in," he added.

Obiena's removal from the PATAFA training pool would mean that he cannot compete for the Philippines in international events, but the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) has already promised to support him and endorse him.

Obiena is the defending Southeast Asian Games champion and is a favorite to win gold in the Hangzhou Asian Games in September.

The pole vaulter was grateful for the POC's statement.

"The POC made a statement that I will still carry the flag of the Philippines and represent the country. I thank the POC for doing what is right for the nation and as the national Olympic committee," he said in his statement.

It remains to be seen how the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) will handle the situation, as the PATAFA sent them a copy of its report while the POC challenged them to fulfill their mandate as "the final caretaker of athletes."

Reached for comment, PSC chairman William "Butch" Ramirez said their agency is set to issue a statement on Wednesday.

Malacañang acting spokesman Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, said, "We continue to support all of our athletes, including our star pole vaulter EJ Obiena." 

"And we hope that whatever disagreements that he may have… hopefully they will all be threshed out," the Cabinet Secretary said in a press briefing.