MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) is taking steps to ensure that pole vaulter EJ Obiena can represent the country in the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games this year.
This, amid his ongoing feud with his own national sports association, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).
After an internal investigation found that Obiena had misappropriated funds, the PATAFA said it would drop the pole vaulter from the national team pool while also filing an estafa case against him. Those actions were put on hold upon the request of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), and it remains to be seen if they will be implemented after Obiena declined to push through with the mediation process offered by the PSC.
The POC, headed by Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino, has backed Obiena in his row with the PATAFA, even going so far as to declare PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico persona non-grata. Moreover, Tolentino stressed that the POC will find ways to ensure that Obiena can continue to compete for the Philippines.
"There is a provision in the IOC charter… Nakalagay po doon na the NOC (national Olympic committee) is the sole authority who submits the delegations," Tolentino said on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum on Tuesday.
Rules 27 and 28 of the Olympic charter give the NOC the responsibility of leading their country's delegations to the Olympic Games, regional, continental, and multi-sports events that are patronized by the IOC.
The Olympic charter also states that NOCs "decide upon the entry of athletes proposed by their respective national federations."
"Such selection shall be based not only on the sports performance of an athlete, but also on his ability to serve as an example to the sporting youth of his country. The NOCs must ensure that the entries proposed by the national federations comply in all respects with the provisions of the Olympic Charter."
The Obiena situation will be a "test case" of those provisions, Tolentino admitted. The national federations -- in this case the PATAFA -- are tasked with endorsing athletes to the PSC for international events, but the POC appears prepared to overrule the PATAFA should they not endorse Obiena.
"Ang tanong po dito, sa NSA, if that athlete, world-class athlete has big potential, will you not endorse him? Just because of this brouhaha? You will deprive the country of having a medal?" said Tolentino.
"Even PSC -- hindi niyo ie-endorse, hindi niyo if-fund?" he added.
If Obiena's participation in the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi is not funded by the PSC, the POC is prepared to help him get assistance from the private sector.
Tolentino said Obiena has been included in a group of 80 athletes whose campaigns will be privately funded.
"Okay, i-endorse niyo, huwag niyong pondohan. Okay din lang, kasi pasok dun sa Group B," he explained. "Nagsisigurado lang po si POC, nagsigurado na si NOC na kung hindi popondohan ng PSC, ihahanap namin ng private (funds) si EJ."
"Kung hindi nga naman bigyan ng PSC, who will fund him? Of course, the private will fund him," he added.
But as far as Tolentino is concerned, Obiena's ongoing feud should not prevent the PATAFA from endorsing him and allowing him to represent the country in the SEA Games, as well as in the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China in September.
"Because of this, hindi ba ie-endorse? Even ang last say nasa NOC, as stated by the IOC charter, hindi ba ie-endorse ng NSA? Why?" he said.
"Bakit hindi mo ie-endorse? Hindi niyo na nga gagastusan, kami na nga eh. Bakit hindi niyo ie-endorse? You will deprive him of a chance to defend his SEA Games title?" he added.
Obiena is the reigning SEA Games champion in pole vault, and is also the favorite to win gold in the event in the Asiad after having re-set the Asian record in September 2021. He cleared 5.93-meters in the International Golden Roof Challenge in Innsbruck, Austria.
Obiena, 25, was also the lone Asian to qualify for the pole vault finals in the Tokyo Olympics last year, eventually finishing in 11th place.
He will open his season on January 28 in Germany before competing in the Asian Indoor Championships on February 11-13 in Kazakhstan.