MANILA, Philippines -- Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena on Sunday confirmed that he has received offers from other countries to switch federations, but insists that he has no desire to do so even with his current issues with PATAFA.
The 26-year-old Obiena, who holds the national and Asian record in pole vault, is currently locked in a funding row with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association, which has accused him of falsifying his liquidation reports and failing to pay his coach, Ukraine's Vitaly Petrov.
Obiena has flatly denied the allegations and provided proof that Petrov has been paid. Both the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) are now involved in the feud, which according to the PSC "has caught the attention of the international sports community."
Moreover, Obiena's own mentor, Jim Lafferty, revealed last week that there are several countries offering their passports to the Filipino athlete, even before his dispute with PATAFA leadership came to light.
"It's no secret in today's world that a number of countries are looking at this situation and laughing uncontrollably how the Philippines is driving away a world-class athlete that they can offer a passport to," Lafferty said.
Obiena confirmed this on a social media post, saying: "My dear friend and mentor James Michael Lafferty spoke with Gretchen Ho several days ago and confirmed I have several offers from other nations to compete under their flag. This is a fact."
"It is also true I have been approached several years ago already by other nations, floating lucrative pay packages to compete for their flag," he added.
But Obiena had opened his latest statement by saying that "loyalty is a virtue," and he stressed that he will stand by this core virtue.
"Mr. Lafferty and I always agreed loyalty matters. I therefore said 'no' several years ago. I love my country. I am proud to compete for the flag of the Philippines," said Obiena, who competed in the Tokyo Olympics and placed 11th overall.
"I get chills every time I hear our anthem played and to watch that flag rise high. Every time I step on the podium I force myself not to cry, kasi papangit sabay baka maging meme pa like MJ (Michael Jordan)," he added.
"I will never abandon my nation because of money. That’s not loyalty. At least not how I define it."
Obiena said that even amidst his frustrations with the country's athletics federation, he intends to keep representing the Philippines -- even as some of his own supporters have encouraged him to make the switch.
Netizens have compared Obiena's situation to that of chess Grand Master Wesley So, who switched federations in 2014 and now plays for the United States.
"Even now, in this current crisis, I have no desire to change nations," Obiena said. "I see these statements on social media and active encouragement to switch allegiances. But this is not who I am and why I do this."
"I want to win for Philippines and show the world what we can do. I want to win for us," he stressed.
Obiena acknowledged that he may be "forced into choices I don't want to make" at some point, given the allegations levied against him by PATAFA. However, at the moment his focus remains as it always was -- "winning gold medals for my nation, my country, my flag -- the Philippines."
While he emphasized his own loyalty to the country, Obiena also put in question PATAFA's own loyalty to its athletes.
"Speaking of loyalty, this is the foundation of my strong defense of these allegations. When one values loyalty, one cannot comprehend how my own 'mother organization' turned on me, never consulted with me, never asked me any questions, never gave me the benefit of the doubt. That’s not loyalty. Again, at least not how I define it," said Obiena.
"I am fighting to bring honor and glory for my country. Others fight for ego, or power. But that’s not me. I fight for higher principles. Loyalty is a virtue. And loyalty still matters."
The rift between Obiena and PATAFA is currently being investigated by the POC's Ethics Committee, while the PSC has sent a mediation agreement to both parties. Obiena and PATAFA have been given until December 15 to submit to the PSC's mediation.