Philippines Senator Pia Cayetano

Senate inquiry on the EJ Obiena-PATAFA row

We should help our athletes compete at the highest level, not destroy them

Opening statement by Senator Pia Cayetano
February 7, 2022

Mr. Chairman, I filed Senate Resolution 982, along with the Senate President. So it’s here, I will not explain anymore the details, they’re all here.

If you read the “now, therefore, be it resolved” section at the very end, it basically says that “the end in view here is to strengthen relevant laws and policies to ensure athletes’ welfare and sports development in the country, including the removal of administrative burden placed upon athletes to enable them to focus on their training and competition.”

So that is our goal here, Mr. Chairman. We have a situation where we have an extremely talented athlete representing our country, he has reached the Olympic level. If I am not mistaken, he was the first or one of the first to qualify in the last Olympics, because he qualified even a few years before the Olympics actually took place. But in the last years or so, leading up to the Olympics. And now, wherein I understand there’s going to be multiple competitions coming up, including the SEA Games of course, he has had to deal with a situation where not only does he not have the support of his NSA, he has actually been ousted by his [National Sports Association or NSA], but he has had to be at the receiving end of accusations on his character, your honor.

I am an athlete too. I am not on the same level of EJ. Malayo po. But I also represented our country. And I continue to be an athlete in my own right, joining various competitions in triathlon and other sports that I love. And I need a good night’s sleep. I need to have that peace of mind that I can totally focus on my game. And this is me, an amateur athlete, what more for a high level international Olympian?

Now, the records will show, it will come out later on, what this young boy has had to deal with, in the months leading up to his competition, not just accusations, but all kinds of statements and calls in the middle of the night being made. I don’t even call my daughters when they have an exam. And this young man, as will be narrated later on, because he lives in a different timezone as well, has had to deal with so much stress coming no less from the NSA.

I will let him narrate the situation, but the only thing I am focusing on in this opening statement of mine is simple. We all know that to be a great athlete, not only do you have to have the skill and the physical attributes. You also need that mental mindset. And we have done everything to destroy this mindset of this young boy.

So I wanna hear from all the experts here, heads of your own NSAs, members of different associations, ganun ba tayo kayabang? Do we have 10, 20, or 50 track and field athletes going to the Olympics, such that we treat our athlete this way? We’re the adults, we’re the policymakers. So I want to know what kind of support we are giving these athletes.

Let’s get the record straight, because during the budget deliberations of the Senate, I moved to recall the budget of the [Philippine Sports Commission or PSC] because of their failure to exercise their supervisorial powers over the NSAs, after having seen how PATAFA was dealing with EJ. And I got a commitment before the entire Senate, no less from the Chairman of the PSC that he will resolve this. But is it resolved? Up to now, we have a situation where EJ doesn’t even know if he will get the endorsement of his NSA. In fact, what he knows is he will not. And is that what we want for our country?

Kung nagkamali si EJ, let’s see what is a commensurate reaction on the part of PSC kung na-delay man siya sa liquidation. Pero I call on every single one of us here attending, aminin niyo ma assistant kayo para mag-liquidate ng sarili niyong mga gastos. Kahit ako, may assistant ako to help me liquidate all my expenses. And we expect our national athlete, who trains 8-12 hours a day, living alone, with a different timezone, to liquidate on the spot, and if he doesn’t, he’s a bad person? He deserves to be insulted? And he deserves to be threatened to be taken out of a sport that he dedicated his life to? Is that how we treat our national athletes?

So that’s the reason for this, your honor. My record will show that I don’t like this kind of investigation. My work is to do the nitty gritty of lawmaking. But if we have to go through this by way of example to learn our lessons, then EJ is the sacrificial lamb, sorry to say. He’s willing to come here. By the way, this hearing is called at a time that it’s 4 am where he is. But he’s here because he wants to set the record straight and also explain his side. Of course, we invited everyone because we also want to hear the other side but at the end of the day, my objective, as I stated in the resolution, is to craft legislation and remove the administrative burden placed upon athletes to enable them to focus on their training and their competition.

That is my opening statement, your honor. #

EJ Obiena
Pole vaulter EJ Obiena attending the Senate inquiry: I’m ‘all in’ for mediation and to clear the false allegations against me.
EJ Obiena mother Jeanette
Jeanette Obiena says the long-standing controversy has taken a heavy toll on the mental health of her son, EJ and other family members.
Hidilyn Diaz
PH’s first Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz says there should be a recognition by sports authorities that elite athletes compete at a very different level, where they are subjected to greater stress and pressure.

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