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Will POC defy court order?

The Pasig Regional Trial Court has called for a renewed POC election on Feb. 23 to allow cycling president Rep. Bambol Tolentino to run for chairman and boxing president Ricky Vargas for president because they were unlawfully disqualified as candidates in the 2016 polls or so decreed judge Maria Gracia Cadiz-Casaclang in a decision dated last Dec. 1.

POC president Jose Cojuangco, Jr. ran unopposed when Vargas was disqualified and won a fourth consecutive term in the flawed 2016 election. No candidate was eligible for chairman so the position was left vacant. Triathlon secretary-general Tom Carrasco filed his candidacy for chairman but was disqualified because a candidate had to be an NSA president. Carrasco used to be triathlon president. Based on judge Cadiz-Casaclang’s ruling, there will be no additional candidates on Feb. 23. For president, it will be Cojuangco against Vargas and for chairman, Tolentino will run unopposed.

Because the RTC decision is final and executory, lawyers for Cojuangco went to the Court of Appeals in an attempt to restrain the election. They submitted a motion for a temporary restraining order and injunction. The Court of Appeals subsequently turned down their motion. Now, Cojuangco is leaving it up to the POC General Assembly to call or not call the election based on an interpretation of a letter from IOC official Pere Miro, deputy director general and National Olympic Committee (NOC) relations director addressed to him dated last Feb. 9.

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Miro suggested for the POC to call an extraordinary meeting of the General Assembly to address this situation. Conceivably, the underlying message to the General Assembly could be it has the power to defy the court order and if the election is held, the Philippines may be suspended by the IOC. Suspension would jeopardize the Philippines’ participation in the Asian Games in August and hosting the SEA Games next year.  But a source said the IOC will suspend an NOC for government intervention only if the state directly installs an appointee to the NOC, not if a court orders the conduct of a legal and democratic election.

The POC will hold an Executive Board meeting at its PhilSports office today to discuss how to explain the situation to the General Assembly. POC secretary-general Steve Hontiveros, meanwhile, has set the General Assembly meeting at the West Side Grill of the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club on Feb. 19 with three items in the agenda – first, an update on the status of the appealed case on the eligibility of candidates for POC president; second, the directives of Miro as contained in his letter to Cojuangco and third, a discussion on certain issues to be settled before the conduct of elections.

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While the issue of holding the election is still not settled, the POC inadvertently sent out a memo confirming the polls on Feb. 23. Apparently, the memo was prepared in case the General Assembly clears it and circulated without authority. It’s not certain if the person responsible for circulating the memo is still with the POC.

Last Jan. 31, the General Assembly held a tumultuous meeting at Wack Wack where Cojuangco banged the table twice and ordered the cutting off of the sound system to mute oppositors after he abruptly adjourned the session in the wake of a heated debate regarding the election. Vargas spoke and said all he’s asking for is to respect the court decision and give the NSAs the chance to choose their president and chairman in a democratic process.

Foisting the suspension bogey is a threat that appears to hold the country hostage. Why put the country’s status with the IOC in danger to preserve the results of a disputed election? If the majority of the 44 voting NSAs calls for Cojuangco’s retention, then let’s respect the result and call for immediate healing. If the vote goes Vargas’ way, then it will reflect the resounding clamor for reform and that, too, should be respected.

It’s in the spirit of sportsmanship, transparency and fair play that the election should be held on Feb. 23. If the voters believe that Philippine sports has progressed over the last 12 years that Cojuangco has been POC president, then by all means, retain the incumbent. But if the voters want change and aren’t satisfied with the performance of Philippine sports, then, they should declare their choice. Remember this isn’t about personalities. This isn’t about whether an NSA can get favors from one over the other. National pride is at stake. Let’s show the world that in the Philippines, democracy and decency prevail in sports.

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