Filipino Olympian EJ Obiena broke his silence on Sunday regarding a report about a Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association's (PATAFA) letter to Obiena with claims of falsified liquidation and a failure of payment to his coach, Vitaly Petrov.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday reported that PATAFA was ordering Obiena to return 85,000 Euros or more than P4 million worth of financial assistance due to the incident.
In a post on his social media accounts on Sunday, Obiena said the allegations against him are "100% false."
"Undoubtedly some of you have seen today's press article reporting on questions raised regarding payments made to my coach, Vitaly Petrov. All I can say, with documented evidence, is these rumours are 100% false and represent nothing more than character assassination," Obiena wrote in his post.
Obiena reiterated this in a press conference later that day.
"It is true, I have received a letter from the so-called investigating committee of PATAFA regarding the forwarding of payments for my coach, paid to myself, and intended to be paid to my coach, Mr. Vitaly Petrov," said Obiena.
The Olympian also said PATAFA accused him of stealing the money intended for his coach, but they did not seek any kind of clarification from him.
"Nobody asked me any question, nobody asked for clarity of supporting documentation," he said.
"They just leveled their charges against me. This runs counter to any principles of justice from what I believe is 'Innocence until proven guilty.'"
Obiena said what PATAFA is doing to him had "intent to destroy my reputation."
The Asian record holder in pole vault also questioned the existence of the letters that PATAFA used as basis for their complaint against him.
"I would encourage the press to shine light on this. No such letter exists. This is fraud, pure and simple. Ask PATAFA to produce such documents."
Obiena also showed a letter which shows Petrov's acknowledgement of his receipt of payment.
Part of Petrov's letter to PATAFA said:
"With this letter I would like to thank you once again for your help and to confirm that EJ Obiena compensate me my salary which was agreed with him before in full sum beginning 2018 till now. I have no complaints against him. Ernest is outstanding athlete of your country and my purpose is still to make an elite world known athlete from EJ. As I said you in the statement I am intendent to coach him as more as I am able and hope we shall have the possibility to train and to take part at the Olympic Games 2024."
Obiena also said he has engaged an independent, third party auditor to conduct an audit of the payments and disbursement. He also vowed to release the audit to the public.
While the pole vaulter insisted that he made the necessary payments, Obiena also acknowledged that he may have had lapses in doing the needed paperwork.
"I studied electronics engineering. I never studied accounting. I admit some of my liquidation paperwork was probably submitted late or in a sloppy fashion," he said. "I have not always handled the paperwork well and I'm very sorry for this."
Obiena, however, said the accusations thrown against him were "disgusting abuse of power and it is in itself a criminal activity called slander and defamation of character."
Obiena's future actions
Obiena said he has started filing complaints to the Philippine Olympic Committee, International Olympic Committee, and World Athletics regarding what Obiena called as slander and defamation. He said he had sought legal representation to pursue these charges as well.
The Filipino Olympian also demanded for the full and public withdrawal of the investigation and a public apology from the authorities involved.
Obiena admitted that this issue has been a distraction on his training.
"I am unable to focus and train properly with this hanging on my head. As I said, if you want a textbook example of how to destroy an athlete, you're seeing it right here and now."
Petrov supports Obiena's statement
In the same press conference, Petrov read out his statement in support of Obiena.
"I have worked with EJ now for seven years. He is a disciplined and dedicated athlete, a truly fine representative of his nation, the Philippines. He has always represented his country with honor and dignity," he said.
Petrov said he has received the reported 85,000 Euros and he has no problem with the Filipino pole vaulter.
"This situation is destroying this young man and ruining his chances to success now and in the future. I worked with many countries and sport federation. I must say I do not understand what this federation is doing, and what good comes out of destroying a fine young man. It is opposite and sets the Philippine track and field program back and this is a shame," Petrov said.
Petrov, a world-renowned athletics coach, has been integral in Obiena's campaign to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and is still part of the efforts for the 2024 Paris Games.
PATAFA chief Philip Juico told GMA News Online on Monday that "the matter is being investigated by the Investigating Committee."
Philippine Sports Commission chairman William "Butch" Ramirez also issued a statement. "For now, let us allow PATAFA and EJ to sort the matter internally within their NSA (National Sports Association), as it should be. The PSC will intervene when it is appropriate," he said.
—Justin Kenneth Carandang/JMB, GMA News