The legality of a special meeting of the national congress of the Philippine Swimming, Inc. that is supposed to take place today is being questioned.
The group of Ral Rosario, with members who were formerly part of the board of trustees of the PSI, has already forwarded this question and other grievances before the Philippine Olympic Committee.
Rosario, along with other stakeholders like former Philippine Sports Commission member Akiko Thomson-Guevarra and former national coach Pinky Brosas, said PSI Secretary General Lani Velasco has no authority to call for such a meeting.
“We sent a copy of our letter to POC about this,” said Rosario after airing their grievances with the help of former PSC chairman Eric Buhain.
Velasco said they are pushing through with their meeting that will be held at the Manila Yacht Club in Roxas Blvd.
“We look forward to a fruitful meeting followed by a fun-filled Christmas part to celebrate the many achievements of Philippine Aquatics this year,” said Velasco.
Following a meeting with officials of FINA, the world governing body for swimming, Velasco has gained recognition from the POC.
Through their legal counsel Ma. Luz Arzaga-Mendoza, Rosario’s group said Velasco is not “valid person to call and organize any special meeting or election.”
They added that other members of the Velasco’s group in the PSI also can’t call such a gathering.
In their letter to POC president Ricky Vargas, Rosario’s group said they are willing to have new elections. Doing so, will put an end to leadership issues and unite the organization.
The POC has not recognized any election for president following the removal of Mark Joseph. The position of president is still vacant according to the POC.
Buhain and his colleagues said what Velasco is doing is a clear misrepresentation and usurpation of authority since Sec. 1, Article XII of the PSI By-Laws stressed that all officers who would be appointed by the federation president must be subjected to the approval of the board of trustees.
Velasco, for her part, claimed that she was appointed by former PSI president Mark Joseph to be her secretary-general in 2016 before formally assuming the PSI presidency in 2017, claiming that her appointment had the blessing of the International Aquatics Federation.
But based on the federation’s By-Laws, Rosario should have been the president since he was the PSI vice president at that time. He was elected as interim president, but the POC voided it due to the absence of a representative.
“Lailani Velasco and her cohorts insist that she has the authority to act on behalf of the PSI because she claims that she was recognized by FINA,” said lawyer Luz Arzaga-Mendoza, the legal counsel of Rosario, Brosas and the PSI board in a letter to POC chief Ricky Vargas last Wednesday. “Hence, for all intents and purposes, the position of president has been left vacant from the time that Mark Joseph Powell was removed from the PSI until this date.”
The special meeting that is set today at the Manila Yacht Club is not the first time for Velasco to call for a national congress.
Last February, she also called for a special meeting that led to a “snap election” where she was formally clinched the PSI presidency before the presence of 65 out of 70 registered clubs all over the country.
The POC, which was under Jose “Peping” Cojuangco at that time, authorized the election with deputy secretary-general Simeon Garcia as observer.
Members of the PSI board composed of Rosario, Brosas, Thomson-Guevara, Luisito Mangahis, Eddie Ledesma, Rodney Barretto and Lucrecio Calo were not notified, prompting Velasco’s group to assemble a new board in Sherwyn Santiago, Jeff Lao, Romar Buenaceda, Vivian Grey, Vero Paloma, Rustom Villanueva, and Christian Gonzales representing five regions, Rod Sacdalan for Drowning Prevention, Rey Galang for Water Polo and Reina Suarez for Synchronized Swimming.
The group fears that the new board is tipped to elect Velasco anew.
In a bid to kick off the training and preparation for the 30th Southeast Asian Games and avert a FINA suspension that could affect the country’s hosting of the biennial meet, the POC general assembly formally lifted the suspension of PSI and recognized Velasco as its president a couple of weeks ago.
The move was the fruit of the visit of FINA executive board member Taha Al-Kishry of Oman, who advised the warring factions to settle the issue among themselves and focus on preparing their athletes for major international tourneys.
After all, aquatics is the biggest sport in the SEA Games with 60 gold medals at stake in swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and open water swimming.
But Rosario clarified that the recognition and support that FINA is giving is not focused on Velasco alone.
“FINA recognizes PSI as its affiliate member in the country, not just a particular person like Lani Velasco,” said Rosario, adding that the world body is not inclined to suspend the Philippines if they take out Velasco contrary to what she is claiming.
“Regardless of who sits as PSI president, the federation will enjoy the support of FINA.”
Brosas said they hope the POC will come up with an inclusive congress that would lead to a national election.
“We’re hopeful that the POC will call for a true election,” said Brosas, a Munich Olympic veteran who stood as mentor of countless international achievers.
“What will happen tomorrow is irrelevant as the board created by Velasco will also elect her as its president. So we’re waiting for the POC to make a move.”