Humility needed to resolve Obiena-PATAFA feud, says PSC chairman

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 11 2022 03:29 PM

Philippines' Ernest John Obiena prepares to compete during the men's pole vault event at The Diamond League AG Memorial Van Damme athletics meeting at The King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels on September 3, 2021. File photo. John Thys, AFP.
Philippines' Ernest John Obiena prepares to compete during the men's pole vault event at The Diamond League AG Memorial Van Damme athletics meeting at The King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels on September 3, 2021. File photo. John Thys, AFP.


MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) has sought the help of the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center, Inc. in resolving the issue between Olympic pole vaulter EJ Obiena and his national sports association.

However, PSC chairman William "Butch" Ramirez warned that unless all parties involved display "humility, generosity, respect and forgiveness," it will be impossible to resolve the dispute that has thrown Philippine sports into disarray for the past couple of months.

Obiena, the national and Asian record holder for pole vault, is involved in a funding row with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA). An investigation conducted by the NSA found that the athlete was misappropriating funds and Obiena has challenged the PATAFA's findings and called its actions a "witch hunt."

PATAFA's intent to drop Obiena from its national training pool and file an estafa case against him has been put on hold, after the PSC again offered to mediate between the two parties. Also involved in the discussions is the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), which has backed Obiena during his row with the PATAFA.

"The PSC has no expertise on mediation," Ramirez admitted during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday. "So we had a MOA (memorandum of agreement) with the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center, who will sit down with me, to assist me in the mediation."

The PDRC is a non-stock, non-profit organization that "promotes and encourages the use of arbitration, mediation and other modes of avoiding or settling commercial disputes such as dispute boards, and provides alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services to the business community."

Neither Obiena nor the PATAFA have formally agreed to the mediation yet, although Ramirez is optimistic that both sides will soon come to the table and get the process started.

The PSC chairman is also hopeful that a compromise will be reached, even as he acknowledged that mediation is a "difficult, even treacherous" process. The result, however, will depend on the attitude that the parties involved will bring to the table.

"Itong mediation na ginagawa namin, at itong dispute na ito, without humility, without generosity, respect and forgiveness, it's impossible to resolve the disputes, even if PDRC will sit down with us with their expertise on mediation," he said.

"Believe me. If EJ is listening, and if PATAFA is listening, POC is listening, I know you have your own politics there -- PSC is just trying to resolve, protect the athletes, help the athletes, even protect the PATAFA," he added.

Ramirez emphatically said that none of those involved in the matter -- including his own agency -- was "perfect."

"That's why humility, generosity, respect and forgiveness is extremely important in the midst of mediation," he said. 

In the same vein, Ramirez also called on those who are not immediately involved in the situation to "please stop talking." 

"To all those people who have not understood, not understand the very essence why these things happen, and the laws of sports, etc., please stop talking," he said. "Let the athlete, PATAFA, POC, PSC resolve this problem in the Olympian ideals of excellence, respect, friendship and understanding."

Ramirez's goal is to resolve the Obiena-PATAFA issue before he leaves office on June 30. The chairman of the PSC is co-terminus with the president.

"Mediation has no deadlines (but) our term ends on June 30, 2022. We don't want to leave PSC with this dispute hanging," he said.

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