“I do not jump for Mr. Philip Ella Juico or the PATAFA. I jump for my beloved nation.”
This was pole vaulter EJ Obiena‘s response to the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) recommendation to drop him from the national team amid their funding row.
PATAFA also said that it is set to charge Obiena with a criminal complaint of estafa in the amount of €6,000 (P360,000).
This amount supposedly represented his coaching fees for the months of May 2018 to August 2018.
Moreover, PATAFA also recommended declaring James Michael Lafferty, Obiena’s mentor, as “persona non grata” and terminating his coach Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov.
In a statement on Facebook on January 4, Obiena said that he was assured by the Philippine Olympics Committee that he will still carry the flag of the Philippines in his future sports endeavors.
“I have said before that the only reason I will not jump for the Philippines is if Philip Juico won’t let me jump for the country. This afternoon, the POC made a statement that I will still carry the flag of the Philippines and represent the country,” he said.
“I thank the POC for doing what is right for the nation and as the National Olympic Committee,” he added.
POC president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino (8th District Cavite) also previously said that the committee will fight for Obiena to join in major world competitions.
The Filipino athlete then expressed his steadfast loyalty to the Philippines.
Obiena also said that he will not let Juico or the “drama” that ensued distract him anymore from his training.
“I will clear my name in court and I will clear my name in competition. My pole will be my platform. My every jump is my defiance to everything that is wrong in the sport. And an affirmation that the Filipino is tough, enduring, loyal and will stand up for what is right and true,” Obiena said.
“I do not jump for Mr. Philip Ella Juico or the PATAFA. I jump for my beloved nation. Ako ay atletang Pilipino. Tumatalon ako para sa Pilipinas at sa lahat ng aking kababayan,” he added.
Shower of support for EJ
Obiena’s supporters continued to cheer for him online.
They further hoped for him to inspire more athletes to stand up for themselves.
“Just focus on your training. Do not let negative vibes surround you. Stay healthy both in mind, body and spirit EJ Obiena!” one Facebook user said.
“I hope your determination and fighting spirit will inspire more athletes as well as enlighten the concerned Organization to give full support to dedicated and proud athletes carrying the Philippine flag. We are proud of you,” another user commented.
On Lafferty and Petrov
Obiena said that he was saddened but not surprised by this development.
He also said he was relieved after learning the charges that would be filed against him.
The Tokyo Olympian added that he and his legal team are ready to face PATAFA in court.
“I am ready to face all cases and charges filed against me in any court or forum. I am hopeful that I will have my fair day in court and that I can finally end this baseless witch hunt,” he said.
Obiena also felt sorry that his coach and mentor were affected by this controversy.
He shared that Petrov had treated him like “his own son.”
“He is a good man and has treated me like his own son. I am sorry that he is being dragged into this,” Obiena said.
The record-breaking vaulter also described PATAFA’s decision to declare Lafferty as persona non-grata as “senseless.”
“He has spent millions of his own money to help our athletes without asking or receiving anything in return. He has done so much for the Philippines, the Filipino athlete and even for the PATAFA; and instead of giving him a pat on the back, he is now being rewarded by declaring him a persona non-grata. This is so senseless,” Obiena said.