Pole vault star Ernest John “EJ” Obiena (File photo)

MANILA – A leader of the House of Representatives on Thursday called on both the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena to set aside "petty differences" and include him in the athletics team roster for the 31st Southeast Asian Games to be held in Vietnam in May.

Deputy Speaker Eric Martinez said Obiena should be given a chance to defend his SEAG pole vault crown, as it would bring honor to the Philippine flag once given a chance.

"Obiena is the most qualified track and field athlete of the country given his world standing. That's a no brainer," Martinez said.

Obiena’s rift with the PATAFA has reached the Court of Arbitration for Sport after PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico filed a complaint against the Tokyo Olympian and the POC last February 11.

The rift revolves around Obiena’s liquidation of his coach Vitaly Petrov’s salaries that evolved into the athlete’s accusation of harassment by his national sports association.

Martinez said both parties should "rise above those petty differences for flag and country".

"If both parties don't want to resolve their differences, huwag ninyong idamay ang bansa (Do not involve the country)," said Martinez.

Obiena, the Asian record holder in men’s pole vault, wrote the PATAFA on February 24 seeking his endorsement for the world indoors in Belgrade (March 18 to 20), 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi (May 12 to 23), World Championships in Eugene (Oregon, July 15 to 24) and the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou (September 12 to 25).

But the PATAFA denied Obiena’s request in a letter signed by the sports association’s Training Director Renato Unso, citing the non-completion of mediation procedures.

“By authority of the PATAFA Board of Trustees, please be informed that the PATAFA Board of Trustees will not act on your letter … pending completion of the mediation process being conducted by the Philippine Sports Commission,” the PATAFA said in its response.

The POC reiterated its effort to help Obiena compete in international competitions.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said it is one gold medal lost for Team Philippines.

“I can only shake my head, this is horrible,” said Tolentino on Obiena’s name missing from the entry by numbers form which the PATAFA and 38 other national sports associations (NSAs) taking part in Vietnam submitted to the POC.

“Barring serious injury, EJ will win the gold medal even blind folded in Hanoi,” Tolentino said. “He’s not only the best in the SEA Games, but in the whole of Asia—not to forget that he’s No. 5 in the world.”

Had Obiena been endorsed by PATAFA, he could have been the first full-blooded Filipino to compete in the world indoors, Unso said.

Obiena won the men’s pole vault gold medal at the 2019 SEA Games at the New Clark City Stadium with a leap of 5.45 meters. Less than two years after on Sept. 12, 2021, he broke the Asian record with 5.93 meters at the Golden Rooftop Challenge, in Innsbruck, Austria.

Obiena was also the only Asian to qualify at the Tokyo Olympics last year. (PNA)