A strong force aligned with ousted Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is blocking the staging of a crucial Philippine Olympic Council (POC) meeting that aims to tackle the legal charges it would file against the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc).
In a letter that Daily Tribune obtained Sunday night, POC secretary general Edwin Gastanes said he couldn’t call a meeting that would address the Phisgoc controversies because the seven board members do not have the majority in the 13-man council.
Gastanes, a lawyer, asserted that the number to achieve the majority should be eight – not seven — since triathlete Nikko Huelgas has a vote in the council for being the representative of the POC athletes’ commission.
“Mr. Nikko Huelgas, the athletes’ commission (AC) representative to the board is the 14th member,” Gastanes said in his letter to POC board members in chairman Steve Hontiveros, 1st vice president Joey Romasanta, 2nd vice president Jeff Tamayo, treasurer Julian Camacho, auditor Jonne Go and directors Robert Mananquil and Clint Aranas dated 18 October.
“His place in the board is in compliance with the IOC guidelines on NOC (national Olympic committee) athletes commission which was issued in 2015 and most recently revised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) executive board on 26 March 2019.”
“Under the IOC guidelines, the AC representative to the board has a voting right in the board.”
Gastanes said the seven POC executives are aware about Huelgas’ existence.
“Factually, Mr. Huelgas has been recognized by the board and confirmed by the POC general assembly as the AC representative to the board. He has been allowed to cast his vote, most recently during the deliberations on proposed amendments to the POC constitution.”
Gastanes’ letter is in response to the order given to him by the seven board members on 15 October to call for a meeting that would tackle the legal case they would file against Phisgoc, the organizing body that Cayetano chaired with his former high school teacher in Ramon “Tats” Suzara serving as president and chief operating officer.
The board members said they have to meet to plot their legal action following Phisgoc’s non-compliance to the 10 October deadline in which it was required it to present the SEA Games financial statements and liquidation reports in accordance to the tripartite agreement they forged with the Philippine Sports Commission on 13 August of last year.
But Gastanes refused to do so, reiterating that the board members do not have the legal authority to do so.
“The majority of the current board is eight,” he insisted.
The POC executives branded Huelgas’ inclusion in the executive council as a brazen attempt to protect Phisgoc from being held accountable in the SEA Games mess.
POC director Clint Aranas said the latest amendment in the IOC charter that gives an athlete a seat in an NOC board has yet to be formally adopted by the POC.
He explained that they tried to amend their constitution couple of months ago, but it didn’t even reach the general assembly as it ended in a status quo, leaving them with no choice but to use their old constitution in the POC elections this November.
“He (Gastanes) is citing something that has yet to be incorporated in our by-laws. If that is the logic, we don’t need to amend our constitution and simply adopt the IOC by-laws,” said Aranas, a taxation lawyer and former government official.
“Also, having Huelgas creates an absurd situation where the board has 14 members, which is an oddity. You need odd numbers in the board to avoid stalemate.”
He emphasized that the POC charter only recognizes 13 members.
“The POC by-laws is clear: Seven is the majority,” he said, citing Article VII of the POC constitution.
“While it is true that we all agreed to have the AC on the board, we still need to formalize this and amend our by-laws. It should reach two-thirds vote in the executive board to amend our constitution.”
It is no secret that Cayetano wields clout in the POC board.
In fact, the incumbent POC president is Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, who chaired the House committee on accounts during his Speakership from 22 July 2019 to 12 October 2020.
The committee on accounts is a powerful body that manages the internal fund of the House of Representatives.
When Cong. Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque took over as House Speaker following the ouster of Cayetano last week, he immediately appointed the President’s son Cong. Paolo Duterte of Davao as Tolentino’s successor.
“We are just asking for a meeting on the issue of the Phisgoc financial statement. Why do they don’t want to meet? Are they hiding something? This creates more speculations within the POC,” Aranas said, questioning the loyalty of Tolentino, who defended Cayetano by saying that he doesn’t want to pressure him to present an audited financial report.
“It is the moral duty of the POC president and secretary general to safeguard the integrity and reputation of the institution. His actions have been anathema to this.”
Aranas also admitted that he is bothered by the decision of Gastanes – a Tolentino appointee – to call a meeting.
“Why is the secretary general refusing outright to give notices? Is he acting on his own or under orders? That is the consequential question to his action,” he said.
Aranas and other POC board members found an ally in former POC president Ricky Vargas.
Vargas said it is about time for Phisgoc to come up with an audited financial report to shed light on how the funds that were raised from local and international sponsors, ticket sales merchandises, broadcast rights and other private means were spent.
Vargas played a key role in the formation of Phisgoc.
He was one of the eight original incorporators together with Cayetano deputies in Suzara, Donaldo Caringal, Monica Mitra, and Dexter Estacio as well as POC officials in Ed Picson, Patrick Gregorio and Tom Carrasco.
He, however, claimed that he has no idea on financial matters as he relinquished his position before funds started to come in.
“It is Phisgoc’s responsibility to come up with a financial report and accounting of the SEA Games fund, not only to POC executive council members, but to the general assembly,” said Vargas in a telephone conversation.
“I am not saying that there is an irregularity or there is a corruption, I just want Phisgoc to take this opportunity to, once and for all, come clean and show us what happened to the SEA Games fund, especially those coming from the private sector.”
Vargas said unity in the heavily fractured organization would only be achieved if Phisgoc will show them an audited financial report.
“We have to unify and do what is correct and that is by asking Phisgoc for its financial report based on its (tripartite) agreement with POC and PSC,” he said.
“We cannot achieve unity if we keep this issue hanging. We have to unify for this cause – the right cause.”