Five months before the Philippines hosts the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games this year, the national sporting sector is in disarray after Victorico “Ricky” Vargas abruptly resigned as Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President.
POC is a private, non-governmental organization that serves as the umbrella organization for all national sports associations (NSAs) in the country. It has the sole authority for Philippine representation in the Olympics, Asian Games, SEA Games, and other multi-event competitions duly recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
A highly respected figure in the worlds of business and sports, Vargas is a class act for being a gentleman who did not air the POC’s dirty linen in public. He remained polite and humble till the end instead of castigating and maligning his detractors.
I think the real reason for Vargas’ irrevocable resignation was that he could not stomach any more the politics and divisiveness within the POC. Early this year, he revealed these challenges and said he was uncertain about serving a second term in the country’s national Olympic organization because of its toxic political culture.
During an industry forum last April, he disclosed: “I’m not comfortable with the culture of POC. My own personality and leadership is being forced to follow something I don’t like. I want to see to it that the culture changes to a more honest, less political organization.”
In February 2018, Vargas’ ascendance ended the 13-year reign of Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. as POC President. From then on, he had to contend with the reality that Cojuangco continued to sit in the board as immediate past president and had allies within the organization who made it hard for him to institute corporate governance reforms.
Now that Vargas is no longer at the helm of the POC, the gargantuan task of reforming an organization allegedly riddled with corruption lies with the few remaining principled members of the board.
POC Chairman Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino has set in motion a plan to ensure that the organization’s next president is qualified for the post. He is calling for a special presidential election because POC’s incumbent vice presidents do not meet the qualifications required for the position of president.
Under the POC by-laws, the chairman may call for a special election within 30 days from the date a vacancy arises if those next in line are not qualified. One of these qualifications is to be an incumbent president of an NSA representing an Olympic sport.
Another requirement is that the POC president must have at least four years of experience as an Olympic-sport NSA president in addition to being an active member of the POC general assembly for two consecutive years at the time of election.
The two incumbent POC vice presidents, Jose “Joey” Romasanta and Antonio “Tony” Tamayo, do not fit these qualifications. Romasanta is the volleyball NSA’s first vice president, while Tamayo heads the NSA for soft tennis, which is not an Olympic sport.
Given these limitations, a special election is therefore necessary under the governing regulations of the organization, and Tolentino is empowered as POC Chairman to call for such a new voting. He must therefore succeed in having a qualified president elected – someone who is fully committed to sports excellence and has the resolve to finally rid the organization of corruption.
Tolentino also has to wade through the dirty politics, fake news, and intrigue within an organization whose officials tend to place their personal interests above everything else, with Philippine sports suffering in the process. These officials do not even care if the country’s hosting of the 2019 SEA Games would end up in embarrassment due to their shenanigans.
Romasanta is reportedly seeking a meeting with Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) Chairman Alan Peter Cayetano regarding the review of contracts entered into by the PHISGOC Foundation, Inc. as well as to map out the remaining preparations for the biennial event to be participated in by the 11 countries of Southeast Asia.
More importantly, the next set of POC leaders should ensure that Cayetano’s noble goal for the Philippine hosting is fulfilled, which is to make the 2019 edition “the best hosted and the most viewed SEA Games ever.” Ultimately, this will redound to the benefit of all Filipino athletes and the nation at large.