The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Executive Board suspended the national sports associations (NSAs) of athletics and tennis during its special meeting on Thursday, a move that opened the door for world-ranked pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena to participate at least in the Vietnam 31st Southeast Asian Games in May.
POC President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said the Philippine Tennis Association (PHILTA) was suspended for its non-compliance with an order from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to amend its charter and hold fresh elections to elect a truly representative set of board members.
The PHILTA has been serving a two-year suspension by the ITF since late 2020 and the sanction faces extension unless the NSA complies with the world tennis body’s instruction.
The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA), Tolentino said, was also suspended for failing to serve their purpose as an NSA, which supposedly “has the dedication and commitment toward the development of the sport, promoting the ideals of the Olympic Movement and the spirit of sportsmanship.”
“Our constitution states that POC may suspend for any reason. However, it’s transparent that PATAFA has deliberately and intentionally disregarded our basic principles of promoting sports and development,” Tolentino said.
“Unfortunately, the non-endorsement of EJ has created a national issue,” Tolentino added. “EJ Obiena, under our International Olympic Committee Charter, has two reasons to be endorsed—sports merit and inspiration to the youth.
Tolentino said that despite sincere efforts by Obiena to mediate, “PATAFA prioritized its pride, and it saddens [me] to look closely on a chance slowly gripping away. They have withheld an opportunity of the Filipino people to have another world record.”
PATAFA denied Obiena’s request that he be endorsed to the world indoor championships that start Friday (March 18) in Belgrade as well as to the Vietnam SEA Games, Eugene (Oregon) world championships in July, and Hangzhou (China) Asian Games in September.
“The time is clearly now for EJ who is mentally and physically prepared,” Tolentino said. “We are in a reachable milestone within our grasp.”
The suspension will be effective for 90 days and will be ratified by the POC General Assembly during its regular meeting on March 30. If ratified, PATAFA will not have any authority over the national athletics team to the SEA Games, giving Obiena a chance to defend his gold medal in Vietnam.
But Tolentino said both suspensions could be dismissed sooner than their terms.
“If PHILTA complies with the ITF order, and the ITF accepts PHILTA’s compliance, the suspension of the tennis association will be lifted immediately,” he said.
For the PATAFA, it looked simpler.
“If the PSC’s mediation effort over PATAFA and EJ [Obiena] is completed and ironed out, its suspension will also be lifted,” said Tolentino, adding a separate resolution on the automatic lifting of the suspensions were also forged by the board.
Nine members of the board voted for the suspension, while two—Charlie Ho (netball) and Cynthia Carrion-Norton (gymnastics) abstained. POC Chairman Steve Hontiveros and International Olympic Committee Representative to the Philippines Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski were absent from the special board meeting.
The suspensions will give the POC direct supervision over PHILTA and PATAFA’s national athletes—including Obiena—coaches and sporting officials, while financial matters will be under the control of the Philippine Sports Commission.
“These suspensions are actually not a landmark decision by the POC,” Tolentino said. “We have at least two precedents when similar athlete-NSA issues rocked Philippine sports in the past.”
Former Asian sprint queen De Vega was endorsed by the POC, then under the late Gov. Jose Sering, for her participation in the ASEAN Cup.
The late Leopoldo Serantes, Tolentino said, could not have clinched a boxing bronze medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics had the then POC endorsed his participation. The boxing association at that time was experiencing leadership intramurals between Roilo Golez and Mel Lopez.
The suspensions were meted a day after Senator Pia Cayetano led the filing of a motion to cite the PATAFA in contempt for disobeying the Senate Committee on Sports’ order for PATAFA’s to amicably settle its differences with Obiena.
The contempt charges also stemmed from the PATAFA filing a case against Obiena and the POC with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. PATAFA filed the case with the CAS four days after it agreed to undergo mediation during a Senate hearing on February 7.
“PATAFA filed a case before the CAS in Switzerland. This is an act of bad faith, as PATAFA practically and effectively closed any possibility of an amicable settlement with Obiena,” Cayetano said.