Penny-wise, pound-foolish. That old English idiom came to mind after reading the editorial “‘Driving away a world-class athlete’” (11/28/21). Olympian pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena clearly holds so much promise, but is neglected in his own country and has had to go abroad to avoid being distracted while training.
The Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) was supposed to take good care of Obiena. Instead, now it is harassing Obiena with “embezzlement” charges for supposedly not paying the salary of his training coach from public funds entrusted to him for that purpose.
But, as it has panned out, there was no malversation, only a delay in the payments. The sports officials concerned clearly did not do their homework. Instead of saying “mea culpa,” however, they doubled down on their assault on Obiena.
Obiena’s simple question has remained unanswered: Why did the Patafa refuse to handle such disbursements to the coach directly to avoid complications and to free Obiena from all “accounting or liquidation” hassles so he could concentrate on his training?
The amount involved is about Euro 85,000 or roughly P4.8 million. The Patafa justified its decision to censure Obiena by raising the sanctimonious jabberwocky about “the money (being) government funds which required accounting from those who receive them, with legal penalties for inaccurate liquidation reports…” The eye-rolling irony was not lost on many in a country where thieves and plunderers of public funds abound, especially in agencies lorded over by many functionaries drunk with power.
The editorial noted that “Obiena is not the first Filipino athlete to complain of shabby treatment by this country’s sports bodies.” Recall chess whiz Wesley So, whom the Philippines lost to the United States in 2014 because the National Chess Federation of the Philippines screwed up big time. Leaving the Philippines in disgust, So is now proudly owned by the US as its world-class chess champion. And what did the Philippine Sports Commission do to keep the young man from migrating? Nada, nothing.
And just last year, there was weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, whom the government falsely tagged in an “Oust Duterte” matrix. She was also forced to seek help through social media as she struggled to train abroad to win the first-ever Olympic gold for the country. Despite its shortcomings, the government never apologized to Diaz—but was quick to take a huge chunk of the credit for her extraordinary feat. Only in the Philippines!
STEPHEN L. MONSANTO