PH sports exec Puentevella hopes to break Obiena-PATAFA standoff

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jan 07 2022 08:04 AM

National weightlifting federation chief Monico Puentevella will file a motion during the Philippine Olympic Committee general assembly meeting scheduled on Wednesday, January 12, that he hopes will break the impasse between the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association and pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena.

“I intend to propose a motion on the General Assembly floor of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) to set aside the ratification of the Excom Board to declare PATAFA’s Philip Juico persona non grata,” Puentevella said in a statement to media Thursday afternoon.

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Moreover, he said, the motion will include “an addendum and condition that PATAFA will also reinstate EJ Obiena to the national team.”

If the 53 regular voting POC members approve the motion, Puentevella, a former POC Chairman, said he was “quite optimistic that once this is approved, mediation will and should be conducted by the Philippine Sports Commission for a period of 1 month for the adversaries to resolve a beneficial and mutual agreement and to avoid issuing further statements until this is all over.”

He stressed that it was “time to sacrifice and set aside four egos. To help save Philippine sports from mediocrity. Nobody wins in this ego-tripping squabble. Philippine sports is the big loser and this has to stop. Or else who’s and what’s next.

“From a mole, we have created a monster. Sports-loving people are laughing at us. So let us all unite and let reason prevail. I am begging for our (POC) colleagues’ approval on Wednesday. Let’s put a stop to this circus. Let’s all start the year right.”

Puentevella, president of the Samahang Weightlifting Pilipinas, was responding to the statement of the PSC led by Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez last Wednesday calling on the Patafa headed by Philip Ella Juico, Obiena and the POC led by Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino to settle their differences “like sportsmen.”

In a last-minute peacemaking effort, Ramirez laid down 4 conditions to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, with the government sports agency acting as mediator.

In a press briefing last Wednesday, acting Malacañang spokesperson Secretary Karlo Nograles said that President Rodrigo Duterte was also hoping for a peaceful and amicable resolution to the dispute.

Speaking on behalf of the PSC board, Ramirez demanded that:

Obiena complete his liquidation of the PSC funds directly given to him in support of his pre-Olympic training and competitions, including the fees of his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov;

For Patafa to reconsider its move to drop the athlete from the national team, provide a means for him to appeal the decisions made against him by the local track body, and for the POC to “bridge the two parties” while reconsider the POC board’s decision to declare Juico persona non grata.

In compliance with the PSC directive, PATAFA Chairman Rufus Rodriguez wrote the PSC on Wednesday that PATAFA board has decided to delay the enforcement of its Administrative Committee findings and recommendation to two weeks beginning December 29, 2021.

The PATAFA probe found proof that Obiena had falsified his liquidation documents from May to September 2019, including the alleged forged signature of Petrov, in the total sum of P360,000, when the coach did not actually receive any fees during that period.

The findings of the administrative inquiry were made known during an online press conference organized by PATAFA last Tuesday.

Based on the report and recommendation of the POC Ethics Committee led by national rowing association head Patrick Gregorio on the complaint filed by Obiena, the POC Executive Board by a vote of 12 in favor and 2 abstentions declared Juico persona non grata last December 28, 2021. 

A copy of the report showed that Gregorio and Gerry Alquiros of the national bridge association signed the POC Ethics Committee report but a third member of the panel, national sailing federation head Jude Echauz, did not.

In the preliminary hearing conducted on December 10, Juico, who attended the meeting, said that he belatedly learned that Echauz left the hearing before it could wind up.

Invoking its autonomy as a National Sports Association, the PATAFA has declared that the POC had no jurisdiction over what it considered an internal matter with one of its athletes.

The POC Ethics Committee report said that Obiena had filed his complaint on November 18, 2021, 3 days after PATAFA sent him a letter by email on November 15 signed by Juico demanding that the athlete to return the amount of 85,000 euros (roughly P4.9 million) “representing coaching fees allegedly paid to Mr. Vitaliy Petrov.”

The letter said it “appears that based on the information gathered that government funds to support your (Obiena’s) training since, of which you had stewardship of, were not used for the purposes in which it was intended or approved based on the PSC approved board resolutions.”

This emerged from the casual conversation that Juico had in September with World Athletics vice-president Sergey Bubka and his compatriot Petrov, who was instrumental for the latter in becoming a world and Olympic champion. 

Bubka signed a sworn statement certified by the Ukrainian Justice Ministry on October 23, 2021 that Petrov had not been paid his wages from 2018 to August 2021 from the PSC funds directly given to Obiena.

Petrov also signed a statement in the form of questionnaire consisting of 52 questions to detail how he had not been paid by Obiena since 2018, which he subsequently recanted with a “final statement” issued on November 28, 2021 through one media outlet. 

The athlete was given 10 days from receiving the letter to return the money.

On November 21, Obiena and Petrov had a virtual press conference together to belie a published and posted the day before that the athlete had “embezzled” the money given directly to him by PATAFA and that Ukrainian had been fully paid his wages

Obiena accused the athletics chief, who had endorsed his scholarship to the World Athletics elite training camp in Formia, Italy through Bubka’s help, of a “witch hunt” and threatened to retire if his name was not cleared of the allegedly false allegations.

He claimed that he was not given a fair hearing by PATAFA and that it was responsible for leaking the news to the media about the issue. 

Juico revealed in a TV interview following that it was only early November that Petrov had been paid his wages in lump sums through bank transfers to the coach’s account in Italy from the Philippines and United Arab Emirates, where Obiena’s agent and benefactor James Lafferty is based.

He likewise denied that PATAFA was responsible for what he insisted was an “internal and private investigation” to the media and placed the Tokyo Olympic Games veteran in a bad light.

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