Puentevella: Senate motion citing PATAFA in contempt risks Philippine sports

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Mar 18 2022 04:22 AM

Olympic pole-vaulter EJ Obiena has been embroiled in a budget-liquidation dispute with the PATAFA for months now. EPA-EFE/file
Olympic pole-vaulter EJ Obiena has been embroiled in a budget-liquidation dispute with the PATAFA for months now. EPA-EFE/file

As a veteran sports official and former lawmaker, Monico Puentevella keenly knows each side of the coin when it comes to sports controversy.

So the weightlifting head and former congressman from Bacolod, Negros Occidental warned senators led by Sen. Pia Cayetano Thursday that they could be treading on “dangerous ground” in the event that they cite the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association and its president, Philip Ella Juico, for contempt. 

“Senators, please be careful. You are trekking on very dangerous ground. You may not know the consequences if this thing blows out. If this issue reaches the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and is construed as government intervention, we’ll be in serious trouble,” Puentevella said. 

He was responding to a decision by Cayetano, who announced last Wednesday that she was filing the motion against the local track body and its head for “acting in bad faith” when Juico appealed the decision of the Philippine Olympic Committee to declare him persona non grata with the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland. 

Cayetano said that she had secured the support of Senate President Tito Sotto; Sen. Francis Tolentino, older brother of POC President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino; and Sen. Panfilo Lacson in censuring the PATAFA president.

She said this violated the Senate Committee on Sports “order” that PATAFA and pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena sort their differences through mediation initiatied by the Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez.

“You (the senators) are putting our standing with the IOC at risk and endangering our participation in the SEA Games, Asian Games and the Olympics,” Puentevella stressed. “Do not burn the whole house for just one athlete.

“I appeal to our good senators to please, let us settle this problem among ourselves (Patafa and Obiena) as members of the POC.”

He also made a personal plea to POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, saying: “I also appeal to our good POC president, Cong. Bambol Tolentino, to please protect our autonomy. Please make sure that we are independent from any government pressure. I am saying this is a former lawmaker, commissioner of the PSC, chairman of the POC and president of the weightlifting federation.”

It will be recalled that Juico, invoking a provision in the POC Constitution and by-laws, appealed the POC decision during its general assembly meeting on January 26 declaring him persona non grata to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The decision was based on the harassment complaint filed against him on November 18 by Obiena with the POC Ethics Committee, which recommended the move against the Patafa head that was ratified by the POC general assembly.

Among the evidence submitted to the CAS, Juico said, was a recording of the POC general assembly meeting in which IOC Executive Board Member Michaela Cojuangco-Jaworksi, the IOC representative to the Philippines, had advised its members not to pursue the persona non grata action. 

The Italy-based Obiena had earlier gone to the POC after a PATAFA internal inquiry showed he had falsified his liquidation documents from the PSC funds given to him directly with the sport’s national governing body’s approval for his buildup to the Tokyo Olympic Games.

These included fees paid to his Ukrainian coach, Vitaly Petrov, who heads the World Athletics elite training camp in Formia, Italy and has been training the Filipino athlete since 2015. 

The liquidation papers allegedly included the fake signatures of Petrov, who had complained to his compatriot and protégé, World Athletics senior vice president Sergey Bubka, whom the mentor had groomed to be an Olympic and world champ, that he had been unpaid by the athlete from 2018 to August 2021.

This was contained in the sworn statement of Bubka released in October 2021 following a casual conversation among himself, Juico and Petrov in September that became the basis of the PATAFA probe and its subsequent findings.

Knowledgeable about the IOC’s rules, Puentevella, the Samahang Weightlifting Pilipinas president and former PSC commissioner, said the world Olympic body might not look too kindly on the apparent government intervention of the Senate into the issue.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe wrote Juico last February 8 affirming his leadership while recognizing the PATAFA as the supreme authority of track and field in the country, while considering its issues with Obiena “an internal matter.”

This was why PATAFA national training director Renato Unso, also the association NCR director, wrote Obiena on March 1 that his request to four international meets last February 24 was dependent on the progress of the mediation process arranged by PSC, which is still ongoing.

Puentevella cited the fifth principle of Olympism that was contained in the IOC’s constitution and by-laws, stating that Olympism recognizes that since “sport occurs within the framework of society, sports organizations within the Olympic Movement shall apply political neutrality.

“They have the right and obligations of autonomy, which include freely establishing and controlling the rules of sport, determining the structure and governance of their organisation, enjoying the right of elections free from any outside influence and the responsibility for ensuring that good governance be applied.”

Puentevella emphasized: “What we have here is a failure to communicate. Please study rules before you (senators) act.”

To Tolentino, he pointed out there are “obviously other ways to solve or mediate this conflict. Actually, you should be the arbiter, not one of the protagonists. Let’s sit down with all the NSAs and discuss this as true sportsmen.”

Puentevella cited Article 3, Section 1, letter m of the POC constitution and by-laws on the powers and functions of the local Olympic body.

“It (the POC) shall act as the final arbitrator of all intra-NSA conflicts and disputes, as well, as cases arising from or in connection with the Olympic Games or any form of doping offense in case the same cannot be settled or resolved with the NSA’s processes and procedures,” the provision states.

Moreover, the same provision states that “any decision ratified by the POC General Assembly may be submitted exclusively by way of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, which will resolve the dispute in accordance with the Code of Sports-Related Arbitration.”

Puentevella was worried that “in case the IF (international federation, World Athletics) and the IOC supports PATAFA, what happens then?”

As a former PSC commissioner and someone who has dealt with the government agency on the regular basis mentioned that “rules are specific that the PSC cannot grant allowances to the athletes that are not endorsed also based by the NSA,” which is found in Republic Act 6847 that created the PSC.