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Stars can deceive untrained eyes

Would sanctioning, punishing or kicking Juico out of the Patafa for standing for truth make a good example for other star athletes?

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How a simple — but faulty — liquidation of an athlete’s expenses on his foreign training, the money coming from the government and his national federation, will soon rock Philippine sports is now beyond fathom, but here the story goes.

Ernest John Uy Obiena had kept winning during the most trying times of a world pandemic, but thanks mainly to the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association’s (Patafa) program that was almost generally funded by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and its private sponsors, he was able to do it behind a solid federation plan of action.

Without the Patafa and the PSC, there would have been no EJ Obiena.

The pole vaulter holds the Philippine national record, and the Asian Athletics Championships record, achievements that made him one of the country’s best athletes, eclipsed only by weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal winner.

Despite all the hoopla, Obiena failed to reach the podium in that same Olympics. He placed seventh in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

While missing on the top tiers of the big campaigns, he won gold medals and broke records in other competitions.

His success was credited to the efficient coaching of Vitaly Afanasevich Petrov — the person behind the great pole vaulters Sergey Bubka, Yelena Isinbayeva and Giuseppe Gibilisco.

On the Patafa’s urgings, Petrov took Obiena under his wing. The Patafa made it through Bubka, now the Senior Vice President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and chief of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee.

Obiena’s troubles started when he had not paid Petrov his salary from May 2018 until August this year.

All along, however, Obiena had been submitting documents pertaining to his payments to Petrov, which the Patafa — where Obiena’s mother, Jeanette, is an official — had accepted as above board. That was until Bubka had called Patafa President Philip Ella Juico to inquire about Petrov’s salary.

It turned out Obiena did not turn over the payments to Petrov despite reporting and submitting documents that claimed he did.

Bubka and Petrov also signed documents and executed an apostilled affidavit to attest to the veracity of their claims.

The Patafa then demanded that Obiena return the money he had not given his coach. A silent investigation was ordered.

A media leak, based on an unsigned document purportedly coming from Juico, forced Obiena to threaten his retirement if the Patafa will not clear his name and will push with the investigation.
The PSC also said that it will investigate the matter.

Now, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) also said its ethics committee is investigating Juico, not Obiena, for his supposed handling of the issue, which was to seek accountability from Patafa’s own athlete.

Juico had sided with the opposition group that lost to the powers that now control the POC, and sources said it’s not farfetched that Obiena’s case is being muddled by certain personalities to suit their needs of an unopposed control of the Council.

Meanwhile, Obiena’s foreign manager Jim Lafferty is announcing the supposed “offers” by “a number of countries” for Obiena to change nationalities, like the chess player Westley So did in the not-so-distant past.

Lafferty, it was said, had helped Obiena settle his late payment to Petrov, with monies coming from private sources in Dubai, Germany and the Philippines.

The questions are, where did Obiena use or keep Petrov’s supposed payments from 2018 to this year? Why did he need private funds to settle with Petrov? Did he submit genuine records in his liquidation reports? Why can’t he welcome the Patafa investigation and demanded that it be terminated, instead?

If Lafferty’s statement about the “offers” are true, is all the din just a cover for some better offers the “number of countries” have laid down his desk as Obiena’s manager?

To the POC, would sanctioning, punishing or kicking Juico out of the Patafa for standing for truth make a good example for other star athletes? Is the rule of law a foreign language to the distinguished members of the Council now?

To the Patafa, will it take more of the floggings it had received from people who do not know the ins and outs of this issue? No wonder it had lost the battle of perception already despite the truth on its side.

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