EJ Obiena did not deny the statement made by his spokesperson Jim Lafferty that there have been offers from numerous countries to naturalize him.
According to Lafferty, multiple countries have offered to bring in the world-ranked pole-vaulter to their federation.
“It’s not one. It’s multiple,” he told Gretchen Ho. “It’s no secret that a number of countries are looking at this situation and laughing uncontrollably how the Philippines is driving away a world-class athlete that they can offer a passport to.”
Meanwhile, Obiena said, “My dear friend and mentor James Michael Lafferty spoke with Gretchen Ho several days ago and confirmed I have several offers from other nations to compete under their flag.
“This is a fact. It is also true I have been approached several years ago already by other nations, floating lucrative pay packages to compete for their flag.”
But for the product of University of Santo Tomas, who competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he had already said no to those countries. And he will continue to do so out of his loyalty to the country.
This, even if he is in the middle of a squabble with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA). The federation raised allegations that he failed to liquidate his accounts on time.
“Mr. Lafferty and I always agreed that loyalty matters. I, therefore, said ‘no’ several years ago. I love my country. I am proud to compete for the flag of the Philippines. I get chills every time I hear our anthem played and watch that flag rise high. Every time I step on the podium I force myself not to cry, kasi papangit sabay baka maging meme pa like MJ.
“From my athlete’s ego, I take pride and joy to win and win even when I’m not ‘supposed’ to be the victor. I will never abandon my nation because of money. That’s not loyalty. At least not how I define it,” he said.
“Even now, in this current crisis, I have no desire to change nations. I see these statements on social media and active encouragement to switch allegiances. But this is not who I am and why I do this. I want to win for the Philippines and show the world what we can do. I want to win for us,” he continued.
Obiena has brought numerous honors to the country over the past six years.
His first podium on the international stage was back in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games when he won silver.
He has then gone on to win golds in the SEA Games, the Asian Athletics Championships, and the Asian Athletics Championships.
The 6-foot-2 athlete out of Tondo also holds the continental record in pole vaulting at 5.93 meters, setting it at the International Golden Roof Challenge in Innsbruck, Austria on September 12.
Despite the predicament he is in, Obiena is still focused on competing and representing his country.
“I have realized I may at some point have no option. I cannot accept to be accused of false allegations and have my reputation smeared,” he said. “I know I may at some point be forced into choices I don’t want to make. It seems to be happening a lot lately like defending myself in a rushed press con. But my goal is focused on winning gold medals for my nation, my country, my flag—The Philippines.
“Speaking of loyalty, this is the foundation of my strong defense of these allegations. When one values loyalty, one cannot comprehend how my own ‘mother organization’ turned on me, never consulted with me, never asked me any questions, never gave me the benefit of the doubt. That’s not loyalty. Again, at least not how I define it,” he continued.
“I am fighting to bring honor and glory for my country. Others fight for ego, or power. But that’s not me. I fight for higher principles. Loyalty is a virtue. And loyalty still matters.”