Senator Bong Go, chair of the Senate Committee on Sports, presided over the joint Senate Committee hearing recently regarding the rift between pole vaulter and Olympian Ernest John “EJ” Obiena and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association.
Leading the public hearing of the Senate Sports Committee, joint with the Finance Committee, Go emphasized the need to identify possible government interventions to resolve the issues or craft necessary legislation to avoid such conflicts from recurring.
The legislator then urged concerned agencies and organizations to always prioritize the welfare of athletes.
“Nandito po tayo ngayon para pag-usapan ang mga isyung ito at tugunan po ang ugat ng mga nakakagulat na pangyayari. Sa akin naman po, nandito po ako para pumagitna sa PATAFA at kay Mr. Obiena para po maayos ang gusot na ito,” the lawmaker said.
“Priority ko pong maiwasan at hindi na maulit ang mga sitwasyong katulad nito,” the senator added.
The dispute was reportedly caused by delayed payments to Obiena’s Ukrainian coach, Vitaly Petrov.
PATAFA initially ordered Obiena to return funds intended for Petrov, accusing the pole vaulter of faking liquidation records and embezzlement. Obiena and Petrov both refuted the claims.
The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) initially stepped in as a mediator, asking Obiena and PATAFA to desist from making public pronouncements. The PSC stated that it will remain open to spearheading any mediation between Obiena and PATAFA.
Expressing his frustration over the controversy, Go strongly recommended for the PSC to regularly meet and coordinate with the Philippine Olympic Committee to ensure that all assistance needed by the athletes are promptly provided and such conflicts are immediately resolved.
“Alam n’yo, tuwing mayroong Asian Games, mayroong Southeast Asian Games – even the recent Southeast Asian Games, pagkatapos, after giving honor to our country eh ang nangyayari doon na naman ‘yung nagsisisihan – Saan na ‘yung pera? Anong nangyari? Sino ang nakatanggap? Walang katapusan,” he remarked.
“Kaya nga po tayo mayroong PSC, it’s high time na you should step up at magpagitna, hindi ‘yung Senado ang referee dito.”
“So, ibig kong sabihin dito, kaya nga po tayo mayroong PSC, it’s high time na you should step up at magpagitna, hindi ‘yung Senado ang referee dito. Kami rito gagawa kami ng, maybe, bagong batas na para to strengthen PSC dahil dito… tapusin natin ito ngayong araw na ito at ang PSC po dapat ang magpagitna d’yan,” Go added.
He then said that the hearing aims to come up with meaningful recommendations in aid of legislation to boost the morale of athletes, improve their performance in their respective fields, and foster better relationships among various sports organizations and athletes.
“Yet, we must do so in a spirit of fair play and justice,” Go emphasized.
Meanwhile, stressing the government’s continuing commitment to strengthen the country’s sports program and safeguard the welfare of the athletes, he pointed out that the exemplary performance of the Philippines in various international sports competitions in recent years is no coincidence.
“Alam naman po natin kung gaano ka-dedikado ang mga atletang Pilipino kapag nabibigyan lang sila ng tamang mga oportunidad at pag-alalay, suporta po. Maliban sa pagiging mapagpursige, likas din po talagang magagaling ang mga Pilipino sa larangan ng sports,” he said.
Go noted the Philippines’ decent showing in the 2018 Asian Games and impressive performance during the 2019 Southeast Asian Games where the country placed on top of the medal tally. The country also bagged a total of four medals, including its first Olympic gold, at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
“Marami pong kababayan natin ang hanga sa ating mga atleta dahil sa sakripisyong kanilang ipinakita. Araw-araw nilang binubuhos ang lahat ng kanilang makakaya sa training, kahit pa nasa kalagitnaan tayo ng pandemya,” he noted.
“Indeed, our athletes found ways to stay on top of their game despite strict quarantine restrictions both locally and abroad. In fact, they even have to endure being away from their loved ones for extended periods just to train and represent our country in their respective fields,” Go added.
He then thanked the athletes present during the hearing, assuring them that the discussions will benefit them in the long run.
“With the help and cooperation of our various National Sports Associations, the Philippine Olympic Committee, and the Philippine Sports Commission, we aim to improve the quality of assistance you deserve.”
“With the help and cooperation of our various National Sports Associations, the Philippine Olympic Committee, and the Philippine Sports Commission, we aim to improve the quality of assistance you deserve,” Go said.
He also assured them of full support from the Senate, citing Republic Act No. 11470 that he authored and co-sponsored, which establishes the National Academy of Sports (NAS) at the New Clark City Sports Complex in Capas, Tarlac to provide education and training for young aspiring athletes.
“Pag nag-training, nasasakripisyo ang pag-aaral, pag nag-aaral, nasasakripisyo ang training. Ngayon po, pwede na pong pagsabayin. Diyan po ito sa Clark, malapit na pong matapos ang gusali na pinatayo ng gobyerno. Para po ito sa atleta,” said Go.
As part of the results of the hearing, a Magna Carta for Filipino athletes was also proposed to be drafted and studied further to clearly identify the rights and privileges of athletes.
Meanwhile, in the spirit of transparency and to allay doubts of partiality, Go disclosed that he is the Honorary Chairman of PATAFA, but said that such title was conferred to him by PATAFA before he was elected as senator and before he became the head of the Senate Sports Committee.
“To allay doubts of partiality, I have never discharged any function related to this role. Being an ‘Honorary Chairman’ is merely a title or honor, without the usual obligations or remunerations,” he explained.
Ending the hearing, Go asked those involved to find an amicable resolution to the conflict. He added that the longer the issue drags on, the longer the country is exposed to embarrassment in the international sporting arena.
“‘Wag po natin sayangin ang karangalan na dala ng ating mga atleta noong mga nakaraang taon para sa mga isyu na maaari namang pag-usapan at ayusin,” Go advised.
“Pwede naman pong ayusin ninyo ito. How can we unify as a nation and win in international competitions if we cannot even see eye to eye as one nation and one team?” he added.
Go also urged the parties to avoid pointing fingers, noting that there has been no final determination of guilt or liability from any tribunal.
“Ang importante lang po dito ay nabibigyan natin ng kaukulang tulong ang ating mga atleta. As much as possible, I am asking all Filipinos to just support and pray for our athletes as they regularly compete to bring honor to our country,” he concluded.