MANILA, Philippines — Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez lashed at the camp of Tokyo Olympian EJ Obiena for thinking twice about entering into mediation to settle the dispute between him and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa).
During the House committee on youth and sports development hearing on Tuesday, Rodriguez questioned why Obiena’s counsel, lawyer Bobbet Bruce, has been evading the possibility of going into mediation to resolve accusations that the athlete’s coach was unpaid despite funds being disbursed.
Bruce said during the hearing that one of the concerns they have with the possible mediation through the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) would be the expenses that Obiena would incur, as he does not have enough funding as of now.
“Mr. Chairman, (PSC Office of the Executive Director OIC) Attorney (Guillermo) Iroy has already stated that the fear of Attorney Bruce that there would be a very expensive arbitration is not true, in fact PDRCI offered it for free but the PSC will give some very minimal amount. The problem is EJ camp through Attorney Bruce do not want to go in mediation, they have other fears Mr. Chairman,” Rodriguez said.
“So if they would not go into mediation, we proceed with this committee (hearing) and I’m going to move for the subpoena of all the deposits, all the Patafa amounts given to Mrs. Obiena, and find out from these accounts […] so that we can go to the bottom of things,” he added.
Patafa ordered pole vaulter Obiena to return 85,000 euros (over P4.8 million pesos) in financial assistance, which should have been payments given to coach Vitaly Petrov, after claiming that the athlete falsified the liquidation documents submitted to the agency.
However, Obiena and his mentor, American businessman and psychologist James Michael Lafferty explained during the House hearing that what they did was to transfer funding using Lafferty’s account as Patafa paid Obiena in Philippine Peso — when he needed to send Petrov a payment in Euros.
But Rodriguez claimed that Lafferty may have been only covering up for Obiena, so that the issue would go away.
“Now what was paid to Vitaly? Ah, Lafferty was trying to pay so that the issue will be gone — no it cannot be gone, Mr. Chairman, it will be here unless the Philippine Sports Committee can mediate so that we can move further. Wala eh, it is the camp of EJ Obiena wanting to go the bottom of this, and this will prove that there has been no remittance to Vitaly by EJ Obiena. So you better not dig your own grave,” the lawmaker said.
“Let’s not listen to this Lafferty, he’s trying to cover up for the payment, he’s the one paying, my goodness. Mr. Chairman you proceed now with the meeting,” he added.
Obiena meanwhile called Rodriguez’ assertions as degrading, echoing his earlier explanation that Petrov has actually received payment — as evidenced by his retraction of his earlier statements.
“I can promise, I know that I am under oath, I have paid for all of these amount, and I have paid Vitaly […] and I don’t understand why he’s in this set of tone, when I was explaining and we clearly stated that we have paid, and him telling that me I’m digging my own grave seems very degrading,” he said.
Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William Ramirez on the other hand urged the parties concerned — Obiena’s camp and Patafa — to just sit down and do mediation as several offices, including Malacañang, are looking towards the resolution of the issue.
“Mr. Chair, I would like to inform the chairman […] that we’ve been peacemaking and mediation is difficult, can be treacherous, but we took the path because we feel that it is important to save Patafa leadership and EJ. I’ve been talking to both of them,” Ramirez said.
“I would like to inform the group that Malacañang is expecting for us to resolve the case, the Senate is expecting us to resolve this, now the House […] So I am not praying for one of you to sit down with us, it is a compelling duty of a sports commission paid by people’s money to lead this,” he added.
But for Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas (SWP) President Monico Puentevella, who was invited to the hearing as a resource person, the issue should be resolved silently and internally, as the country runs the risk of getting sanctioned from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
“I hope PSC fixes this silently, discreetly, if this reaches International Olympic Committee — if there’s a wise guy here who elevates this to the IOC, you know Mr. Chairman there’s a rule, with all due respect, that there should be no government interference when it comes to these problems. If this gets even bigger, even IOC will listen in,” he said.
“If this gets bigger and IOC makes the wrong decision, there’s a possibility the entire Philippine Olympic Committee will be affected, members will get hit, so please your Honor, just fix this Chairman,” he warned.
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