"Can the POC rid itself of this toxicity?"
What's wrong—and right—with Philippine sports?
Last week, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Ricky Vargas tendered his irrevocable resignation, saying in his letter “that there would be other sports leaders who would have the time and inclination needed to lead the POC more effectively."
Insiders in Philippine sports swear by Vargas' character, and look up to him as a gentleman and a class act. You wouldn't expect him to air the POC’s shortcomings in public. He remained humble and courteous up to the end, they say, rather than casting aspersions on those he worked with.
The same insiders believe the real reason Vargas quit was that he just couldn't stand the politics and divisiveness within the POC. He revealed these challenges as POC president, when earlier this year, he said that he was “uncertain” of another term at the sports body because of its prevailing political culture.
"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," said Vargas before members of the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) forum last April.
Vargas, who ended Peping Cojuangco’s 13-year reign as POC president in February 2018, must have been overwhelmed by the politics inside the organization. While he succeeded in being elected as POC president, Vargas had to contend with the reality that the previous administration continued to exert an influence on the organization, making it well-nigh impossible for him to institute reforms that he wanted for the good of Philippine sports.
Now that Vargas is no longer at the helm of the POC (although he gets to sit on the board as its past president), only a few honest, principled men like him remain to face the gargantuan challenge of reforming this organization.
POC chairman and Congressman Abraham Tolentino is among these honest and principled few. He has set in motion a plan to ensure that the one who succeeds Vargas is qualified for the post.
As chairman, he plans to call for special elections for the position of president, given that the two vice presidents in the POC are not qualified to succeed Vargas.
Tolentino is authorized to do this under Article 7, Section 6 of the POC bylaws. Under this provision, the POC chairman may call for a special election within 30 days from the date the vacancy arises if the two expected successors are not qualified.
Being an incumbent president of an Olympic sport and a National Sports Association (NSA) is among the qualifications to assume the POC presidency.
Article 7, Section 11 also states that the POC president must have had at least four years’ experience as NSA president of an Olympic sport at the time of his election, and must be elected from any of the incumbent NSA presidents representing an Olympic sport, in addition to being an active member of the POC General Assembly for two consecutive years at the time of his election.
The two POC VPs, Jose Romasanta, is 1st vice president of volleyball, while 2nd vice president Antonio Tamayo is president of soft tennis, which is not an Olympic sport.
Given these limitations of the two VPs, Tolentino is fully authorized under the POC bylaws to exercise his powers as chairman to call for a special election to elect a new president of the organization.
Tolentino has to wade through the politics of an organization where some officials, insiders claim, have always placed their personal interests above everything else, with Philippine sports suffering in the process, with the Philippines’ hosting of this year’s Southeast Asian Games possibly ending up in embarrassment because of politics.
Tolentino must succeed in getting a new, qualified president of the POC elected. Someone who is tough, fully committed to sports excellence, and as honest and as principled as him and Vargas to ensure that Taguig Congressman-elect Alan Peter Cayetano’s goal as chair of the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee of making this year’s SEA Games “the best hosted and most viewed” is fulfilled.
And more importantly, Tolentino needs a POC president as an ally to finally rid the organization of toxic politics.