After reaching out to Obiena, Patafa, POC ethics body ready to start probe

PHOTO CAPTION: The Philippines’ Ernest John Obiena is seen here in the men’s pole vault final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on August 3, 2021. After vaulting his way to SEA Games and Asian Games records in recent months, Obiena now has to hurdle the investigation being readied by his mother organization the Philippine Track and Field Association (PATAFA), and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) ethics committee into the controversy that had Obiena wanting to prematurely retire from the sport./iNews (N. Glenn Aragon/Photo courtesy of Ben Stansall/AFP)

(June Navarro/Inquirer Sports)

The ethics committee tasked by the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) to probe what went wrong between star pole vaulter EJ Obiena and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) has already spoken to parties involved and has vowed to “ensure due process” in its investigation of the issue.

“We are looking into this matter with utmost concern and collating pertinent information from both Patafa and Mr. EJ Obiena to ensure due process,” national rowing chief Pato Gregorio, the chair of the ethics committee, said in a statement released to media on Monday.

Gregorio said the committee has already touched base with both Obiena and Patafa, but declined to give further details on both conversations.

The development was a relief for those seeking closure to the controversy, particularly after the Philippine Sports Commission’s (PSC) plan to subject the parties involved under mediation proceedings hit a snag. Neither Obiena nor Patafa top honcho Philip Juico has signed the mediation submission agreement transmitted to them by the PSC five days ago, much to the disappointment of PSC Chair William Ramirez.

“The parties owe it to the government and the Filipino people to resolve the issues amicably. A failed mediation will be detrimental to both parties,” Ramirez said on Monday.

The PSC has said that the mediation will not be a fault-finding process but a means to heal the rift between the world No. 6 pole vaulter and his mother federation.

“Again, my role is to facilitate communication between the parties, not to decide who is right or wrong. Mediation is the best option for now so the parties can reconcile, open communication lines and continue the work that needs to be done,” said Ramirez.

The POC, on the other hand, has vowed to get to the bottom of the issue to see which side had erred in the controversy, according to the Olympic body’s president, Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino. The ethics committee, however, was not talking sanctions just yet.

“It’s [still] an ongoing process,” said Gregorio.

“The Committee has been tirelessly working with our legal team to resolve the issue at the soonest possible time,” Gregorio added in his statement. “We do not want shortcuts here. What we want is to shed light on the matter and ensure that TRUTH prevails.”

Lawyer Wharton Chan, the POC chief legal officer, heads the legal team while sailing president Ernesto Echauz and bridge head Gerry Alquiros are part of the ethics committee.

The rift between the athlete and his national sports association stemmed from the late payments Obiena made to his Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, with the Patafa asking the Tokyo Olympian to return 85,000 euros (over P4.8 million), which represents a major chunk of Petrov’s salary since 2018.

Obiena snapped back at Patafa, pointing out that he had already settled the financial obligation to Petrov in full and emphasized that not paying his coach on time is not a crime.

Petrov backed Obiena by issuing an official statement. (June Navarro/Inquirer Sports)

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