THERE is light at the end of the tunnel in the mediation process being brokered by the Philippine Sports Commission between the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association and pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena, according to PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez.
“We are almost there,” Ramirez said Tuesday in his first actual press conference since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country in mid-March 2020 held at the PSC conference room inside Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.
Without discussing what transpired, Ramirez made the optimistic assessment after the fourth dialogue between the Italy-based athlete and the sport’s national governing body headed by Philip Ella Juico last Monday afternoon that lasted more than seven hours.
“After meeting three to four times, the two parties are now talking like father and son,” noted Ramirez, who had initiated the mediation as far back as December, but only got Obiena to formally join the bargaining table last March 1.
This was after the athlete formally requested PATAFA last February 24 to accredit him for four international competitions – the recent world indoor meet in Belgrade, Serbia; the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games in May; the world athletics championships in Eugene, Oregon in July; and the Hangzhou Asian Games in September.
PATAFA national training director Renato Unso, who is also the association’s NCR director, wrote Obiena back that his request would only be acted upon pending the resolution of the PSC-supervised mediation process.
Recognized by World Athletics as the supreme authority for the sport in the Philippines, PATAFA did not accredit Obiena for the world indoor tourney and excluded his name from the national team to the Vietnam SEA Games as talks only began on March 7.
“Starting from zero, both PATAFA led by Dr. Philip Ella Juico and Obiena have agreed on 90 to 95 percent on what we have discussed. I am positive by Friday, April 1 – not April Fools Day - we will be successful. Pirma na lang ang kulang (Only their signatures to the agreement are missing),” the PSC chief said.
“Give us a chance to finish this (mediation) on Friday,” added Ramirez, who was referring to no one in particular in his announcement, although it was on the eve of the Philippine Olympic Committee general assembly meeting that will decide on the suspension of the local track body.
In a move initiated by POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who has backed Obiena in his controversy with PATAFA, the POC Executive Board last March 17 suspended the national sports association in the wake of its twin decisions involving the athlete.
Based on his discussions with the two parties, Ramirez said that PATAFA seemed inclined to accredit Obiena to the Vietnam SEA Games, where he will be defending his men’s pole-vault title, and the world meet among the concessions once an agreement is finalized.
On the other hand, the POC board’s move can only be final and executory if the action is ratified by two-thirds vote of the 56 regular members – or 38 votes – based on the provisions of the POC constitution and by-laws.
Among those who had qualms over the action was POC treasurer and gymnastics chief Cynthia Carrion, who publicly went on record last week during a PATAFA-organized virtual press conference that she abstained from voting, fearing that it could set a dangerous precedent.
Also voicing their concerns during the same briefing were weightlifting chief Monico Puentevella, POC chairman and handball head Steve Hontiveros, squash association president Robert Bachmann and veteran sportsman Frank Elizalde, the former International Olympic Committee representative to the country.
A PSC source, who declined to be identified, said it would be best for the POC to await the final agreement to be announced on Friday before taking any further action.
Ramirez, however, said that he continued to recognize and respect the autonomy of both the POC and the NSA while appealing to media to make his sentiments known to finally settle amicably the row between the athlete and PATAFA that has been hounding local sports for the past several months.
“I hope we can patch up that one this coming Friday. I hope you (media) can help me navigate this aspect as the one in charge of Philippine sports,” he said.
As the major mediator in the dispute, Ramirez said that he had witnessed “an enormous softening and transformation from both sides for the sake of Philippine sports.
“Both Juico and Obiena wanted to patch up their own differences. And I really appreciate them for that. We are almost there. I would like to speak to everyone as the one with oversight of Philippine sports. I have a duty to say something. Give us a chance to finish this on Friday,” Ramirez said.
“We’re hoping that EJ (Obiena’s nickname) will have a normal life once again in the direction he wants to take. (That) we’ll have peace among the elite athletes,” he emphasized. “The possibility of agreeing to the mediation 100 percent is very big. I think the whole country will respect that.”
Ramirez acknowledged that being the peacemaker between the athlete and his association was a huge challenge, “but the dispute and learning experience to share in what direction we are going ... We have to learn from this and set policy. This is a lesson for both leader and athlete."