Senators want PSC’s budget for Patafa removed if ‘harassment’ vs EJ Obiena persists

Published November 24, 2021, 10:00 AM

by Hannah Torregoza 

Senators are keen on removing the budget assigned for the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and give it to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) if it fails to stop the apparent “harassment” being done against the country’s lone pole vaulter EJ Obiena.

It was Senator Pia Cayetano who raised this option during the plenary debates on the 2022 budget of the PSC, Tuesday night. The Senate had earlier recalled the budget of the PSC after Cayetano moved to scored the “hands-off” approach on the issue involving Obiena and Patafa.

The Senate has approved the P364.24-million proposed budget of the PSC for 2022 but on the condition it will “rectify the grave injustice” done on Obiena.

“I want to let the PSC know and PATAFA know that this budget season does not end even if we will now agree to grant the budget. We still have a few weeks and we will go through the process of amendment, and then we will pass this (budget) bill. And then we will go through bicam (bicameral conference committee),” Cayetano said during the plenary budget deliberations.

“Mr. Sponsor, please be sure that (PSC) Chairman (Butch) Ramirez knows and relays to PATAFA that if we do not hear sincere efforts, not even efforts—statements—to rectify the grave injustice that they have done upon EJ, I will move that the bduget of PSC that is set aside for PATAFA be removed, and that you PSC, will directly give to the athletes,” Cayetano added.

“I don’t want the athletes to suffer, but I will remove it from PATAFA, your honor. That is my clear statements and I see my colleagues nodding. I believe everybody will support us on that,” she added.

Sen. Joel Villanueva, who defended the PSC’s budget, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri supported Cayetano’s motion.

Villanueva assured that the PSC regrets “that these things would happen and that the PSC values and gives utmost importance to our athletes, especially to a national athlete.”

“As I always say, EJ is a national treasure that gave pride and honor to the Filipino people,” Villanueva said.

“The PSC also shares the sentiments of our distinguished colleagues here in the Senate and that PSC even further relay that we should continue to protect and support our athletes and not to demoralize them and with that we are supporting the PSC in its call to stop the harassment against EJ Obiena,” he added.

Cayetano, who herself is a triathlete, said that even though she herself is bothered by the fiasco between Obiena and the PATAFA, the budget for the training of the athletes should not be withheld.

“This is for the athletes. This is for the international training of the athlete…I am so sorry that EJ had to go through this, but maybe there is still good that came out of this horrible, horrible experience for EJ Obiena,” Cayetano said.

Obiena, who finished 11th in the pole vault competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has been accused of embezzlement by his national sports association (NSA) for alleged falsification of liquidation reports. The PATAFA also accused Obiena of failign to pay his coach Vitaly Petrov.

Obiena, however, denied in a press conference that he failed to release Petrov’s salary for the services he rendered from early 2018 onward, but admitted he had difficulty paying his coach on time due to the intense schedule of his training and lack of manpower support.

Petrov, who also joined Obiena’s online presser, disputed PATAFA’s accusations and affirmed that Obiena indeed paid him his monthly stipend. This prompted PATAFA to change its accusation against Obiena from embezzlement to late liquidation.

Cayetano said it was “horrible” for a national athlete to be accused of embezzlement, theft considering he is just a young athlete in training.

“After he called for a press conference and his coach said, ‘No, I received the money’ the accusation was now changed na ‘late, late ka mag-liquidate’ and then they made him go through all that just because late siya mag-liquidate. Eh siguro guilty na tayong lahat doon for every now and then, being late in submitting something. So it’s awful,” Cayetano pointed out.