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PATAFA’S IRONIES

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By Red N. A. Dumuk (08.08.22)

The dispute between Philippine Athletics Track & Field Association’s leadership and the world’s No.6 pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena has yet to be ironed out with finality after running for nine months.

This, despite the announcement of erstwhile Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William Ramirez the feuding parties, have finally settled their differences following the fifth session ending the PSC-initiated mediation proceedings.

Yes, PATAFA endorsed Obiena to the 2022 Southeast Asian Games last May and the 2022 World Athletics Championships last July. Obiena reciprocated with a flourish—clinching the pole vault SEAG gold medal and setting a new SEAG standard in the former; and the bronze, establishing new Asian and Philippine records in the latter.

Obiena’s podium finish in the world earned him a niche in Philippine athletics history as it stands as the best showing ever by a Filipino.

However, Obiena, notwithstanding his sterling performances in the above-named conclaves, would still have to secure PATAFA’s endorsement for his participation in other competitions, “subject to the usual rules and regulations of PATAFA as observed for the participation of all national athletes.” This means effectively he is still under suspension thereby ineligible to receive an allowance from PSC.

A generation ago, in resolving the issue of “indefinite suspension” of Lydia de Vega, then considered the ‘Wonder Girl’ of Philippine athletics, to compete in any Gintong Alay- or Philippine Track & Field Association-sponsored or -sanctioned meet, a contract was inked.

The agreement, first-ever between a sports training body under the aegis of the government and an athlete, bound Lydia to the Gintong Alay training program’s rules and regulations a violation of which would make her subject to suspension for life.

Gintong Alay Project Director Michael Keon who slapped the suspension affirmed by PATAFA Keon himself headed and Francisco “Tatang” de Vega for and on behalf of Lydia, a minor at 15, forged the pact 48 days after the suspension became effective. Sports Deputy Minister Nereo Andolong, Chairman of the advisory board of Gintong Alay acted as an intermediary.

Keon was quoted,” We are entering into this agreement because of the importance of Lydia in the Gintong Alay project.”

Lydia proceeded to prove she was, indeed, that important. From 1981 until she was suspended anew prior to the 1983 Asian Athletics in Kuwait, Lydia chalked up these achievements: 1981 Tokyo Asian Athletics Championships- silver, 100m; silver, 4x400m; bronze, 200m; 1982 New Delhi Asian Games- gold, 100m; 1981 SEA Games- gold, 200m; gold, 400m; 1983 SEA Games- gold, 200m.

When Lydia was again suspended, Keon’s action was overridden by First Lady Imelda R. Marcos.

Lydia repaid that gesture with golds in 100m & 200m and silver in 400m from the Asian Athletics episode in 1983.

Lydia saw action in 1984 Los Angeles, 1988 Seoul, and 1992 Barcelona Olympics, crowned “Asian Sprint Queen” and at one time owned seven Philippine records—more than sufficient to merit a berth in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame (PSHOF).

In 2018, Lydia was enshrined in PSHOF along with, among others, now Philippine Sports Commissioner Bong Coo 27 years after she expressed her wish for a hall of fame to immortalize the feats of athletes who have brought honor and pride to the country to be established.

Regarding EJ, I (a member of the pioneering 2010 PSHOF Committee) will nominate him to be included in the next class of PSHOF inductees. He has already earned the right.

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