A group of former Olympians yesterday questioned the legality and mandate of Lailani Velasco to call for a special meeting and national congress on behalf of the board of trustees of the Philippine Swimming, Inc. (PSI).
Ral Rosario, Eric Buhain, Carlos Brosas and Akiko Thomson-Guevara stressed that Velasco doesn’t have the authority to call a national congress since she is not part of the PSI incorporators. The PSI registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2011.
The group said Velasco is misrepresenting and usurping PSI authority since Sec. 1, Article XII of the group’s by-laws stress that all officers appointed by the federation president must be approved by the board of trustees.
Velasco claimed she was appointed by former PSI president Mark Joseph as secretary-general in 2016 before formally assuming the PSI presidency in 2017. She claimed her appointment had the blessing of the International Aquatics Federation (FINA).
But had the same by-laws been used, Rosario should have taken over as president since he was the PSI vice president at that time. He was elected as interim president but the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) voided his election due to the absence of a representative.
“Lailani Velasco and her cohorts insist that she has the authority to act on behalf of the PSI because she claims that she was recognized by FINA,” said lawyer Luz Arzaga-Mendoza, the legal counsel of Rosario, Brosas and the PSI board in a letter to POC chief Ricky Vargas last Wednesday. “Hence, for all intents and purposes, the position of president has been left vacant from the time that Mark Joseph Powell was removed from the PSI until this date.”
The special meeting set today at the Manila Yacht Club is not the first time Velasco had called a national congress.
Last February, she also called a special meeting that led to a “snap election” where she clinched the PSI presidency before 65 out of 70 registered clubs all over the country.
The POC, led by Jose “Peping” Cojuangco at that time, authorized the election with deputy secretary-general Simeon Garcia as observer.
Members of the PSI board composed of Rosario, Brosas, Thomson-Guevara, Luisito Mangahis, Eddie Ledesma, Rodney Barretto and Lucrecio Calo were not notified, prompting Velasco’s group to assemble a new board in Sherwyn Santiago, Jeff Lao, Romar Buenaceda, Vivian Grey, Vero Paloma, Rustom Villanueva and Christian Gonzales representing five regions, Rod Sacdalan for Drowning Prevention, Rey Galang for Water Polo and Reina Suarez for Synchronized Swimming.
The group fears the new board is likely to elect Velasco anew.
“They have no legal personality to do so,” said Rosario, a gold medalist in the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games who saw action in the Munich and Montreal Olympics in 1972 and 1976.
“We maintain that Lailani Velasco has no valid personality to call and organize any special meeting or election.”
In a bid to kick off training and preparation for the 30th Southeast Asian Games and avert a FINA suspension that could affect the country’s hosting of the biennial meet, the POC general assembly formally lifted the suspension of PSI and recognized Velasco as its president a couple of weeks ago.
The move followed the visit of FINA executive board member Taha Al-Kishry of Oman, who advised the warring factions to settle the issue among themselves and focus on preparing their athletes for major international tourneys.
Aquatics is the biggest sport in the SEA Games with 60 gold medals at stake in swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming.
But Rosario clarified that the recognition and support that FINA is giving is not focused on Velasco alone.
“FINA recognizes PSI as its affiliate member in the country, not just a particular person like Lani Velasco,” said Rosario, adding that the world body is not inclined to suspend the Philippines if they take out Velasco contrary to what she claims.
“Regardless of who sits as PSI president, the federation will enjoy the support of FINA.”
Brosas said they hope the POC will come up with an inclusive congress that would lead to a national election.
“We’re hopeful that the POC will call for a true election,” said Brosas, a Munich Olympic veteran who stood as mentor of countless international achievers.
“What will happen tomorrow is irrelevant as the board created by Velasco will also elect her as its president. So, we’re waiting for the POC to make a move.”