When an NOC president falls hard
Ricky Vargas (far right) celebrates his win. Photo: Jess Escaros Jr for the Philippine News Agency, Public domain/Wikimedia Commons
02.03.2018By Lars Andersson
He orders to turn off the microphone, when his opponent talks.
He walks out the door, ostentatiously, in the middle of a meeting.
He removes presidents and installs loyal presidents instead.
He excludes federations and forms loyal federations with his henchmen at the top.
He does not comment on fraud accusations from the state’s grants to Philippine sports or missing money doled out by the Olympic Solidarity Movement to the Olympic Philippine athletes at the Rio Olympics 2016. And he will not say anything about the missing allowances to the national karate team.
He is a man of few words.
But he is not a bully from some fascist regime.
He is a true Olympian and a president of a National Olympic Committee, backed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for 13 years.
Or he was.
Because; even such a powerful person has an expiration date. For Jose ‘Peping’ Cojuangco Jr., president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), it was 23 February 2018. On this last Friday in February, Peping Cojuangco got ousted as a president of the POC at an extraordinary election. Ousted by Victorica P. ‘Ricky’ Vargas, president of the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines (ABAP), with 24 votes against 15.
His days were numbered
As described in earlier articles on playthegame.org, Peping Cojuangco had otherwise reigned Philippine sports and POC since January 2005 with, according to many critics, equal parts of corruption, kickbacks and favouritism. The 83-year old man comes from the political dynasty Cojuangco/Aquino. Better known from the family are Peping’s sister, former president of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992, Corazon Aquino, and her son and Peping’s nephew, former president of the Philippines from 2010 to 2016, Benigno Aquino III. But ‘Peping’ himself has been a congressman in the Philippine Parliament. On top of this mighty political influence comes that the Cojuangco/Aquino family is one of the richest in the Philippines.
Long before 23 February 2018, Peping Cojuangco’s days were numbered. He just did not recognise it himself. On 1 December 2017, the Regional Trial Court in Pasig City decided that the election in POC held on 25 November 2016 was illegal and that a new election should be held on 23 February 2018.
Back in November 2016, an internal POC Election Committee disqualified Ricky Vargas from running for president of the POC. Reason: Vargas failed to meet election requirements under the POC Constitution saying that the president and the chairman of the POC should have been an ‘active member of the POC general assembly for two consecutive years at the time of their election’. And Vargas had sent his director of the boxing federation, Ed Picson, to the assembly and meetings in the POC.
However, the court ruled in December 2017, that the POC decision was illegal and that Vargas should have the possibility to run. The Court of Appeals in Manila upheld the decision.
No help from the IOC
But Peping Cojuangco is not a quitter. On 5 February 2018, the POC President wrote to the IOC in an attempt to get the ‘Olympic family’ to intervene against ‘government interference’. However; on 9 February 2018, Pere Miro, the IOC Director for NOC Relations and Olympic Solidarity, answered:
“As you know, it is our principled position within the Olympic Movement that any sports-related or institutional disputes arising within a national Olympic committee (NOC), or between a NOC and its members, should be resolved by the competent governing bodies of the NOC, including the NOC General Assembly as the supreme decision making body of the NOC.”
And Miro continued:
“Now, we understand that there is an ongoing court case and an obvious need to discuss, clarify and agree upon the practical implications and the next steps in this context; we recommend that you refer the present situation to your NOC General Assembly.”
So, Peping Cojuangco had to have a general assembly. And the POC General Assembly said election!
But the wily politician had a few more tricks up his sleeve. He travelled to Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics to talk with Thomas Bach, the president of IOC, and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, president of the Olympic Council of Asia; with the purpose of getting rid of Ricky Vargas. But the two most powerful men in the ‘Olympic family’ apparently had another agenda.
Peping Cojuangco had already made a fatal decision before the trip to South Korea. With him, he took his old friend and former IOC member, Frank Elizalde, who is also chairman of the POC Election Committee. Mr. Bach and Mr. Al-Sabah talked separately with Mr. Elizalde about ‘the true political state of the POC’, and thumbs were turned down for Mr. Cojuangco, according to Play the Game’s sources in Philippine sports and in the IOC.
Void and without merit
Back in the Philippines, and with an election coming up, Peping Cojuangco started to count votes. And he had cause for concern. Consequently, as so many times before, Cojuangco decided to replace presidents like in the Philippine National Shooting Association (PNSA).
Here sat Richard Fernandez and he supported Ricky Vargas. On 14 February 2018, with the help of POC deputy secretary general Simeone Garcia, Peping Cojuangco installed Luis ‘Chavit’ Singson as the new president of the PNSA. Chavit Singson is a millionaire, organiser of Miss Universe, accused of involvement in illegal gambling – and loyal to Peping Cojuangco. However; things were not as they use to be. The fixed election made the chairman of the election committee of PNSA (Elecom), Eleuterio C. Canivel, walk out the door – and subsequently write to the POC Ethics Committee and the IOC Ethics Commission:
“The election is in gross violation of the PNSA By-Laws, so, as chairman of the PNSA Elecom, I am declaring it void and without merit.”
At the headquarters of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) in Munich, Germany, they also wonder about the sudden shift of president in a member association.
“The ISSF has not been made aware yet officially about the mentioned election of a new president by the Philippine National Shooting Association. We are going to contact the PNSA regarding this issue. The ISSF bodies are taking their decisions in accordance with all ISSF and IOC rules and regulations, taking into account decisions of the competent dispute resolution bodies. The ISSF Headquarter is trying to gather additional information from various sources, so that an informed decision can be taken by the competent ISSF bodies possibly after consulting with the IOC,” Marco Dalla Dea, Communication Manager at ISSF, wrote to Play the Game 26 February 2018.
A henchman runs away
Furthermore, Peping Cojuangco’s nearest henchman, Jose ‘Joey’ Romasanta, was coming under severe pressure. The former employee at the Cojaungco family’s Hacienda Luisita, whom Peping Cojuangco granted the leadership of Philippine Karatedo Federation (PKF), as well as volleyball, Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas Inc. (LVPI), got accused of corruption.
At a training camp in Germany from 20 July to 9 August 2017, the 15-man karate national team should have had allowances from the governmental Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), USD 1,800 each. The athletes allegedly only received USD 470. The rest? Allegedly in the pockets of the leadership. The case got PSC to stop all support of the PKF, to suspend its formal recognition and to initiate a criminal investigation.
The athletes, furthermore, all signed a manifesto expressing their loss of confidence in the PKF leadership under president Joey Romasanta.
The statement got Joey Romasanta to threaten the athletes with a lawsuit for libel. But it may also have had Romasanta think about how the winds were changing in the Philippines.In the end, Joey Romasanta changed sides and voted in favour of Ricky Vargas.
A triumph for the athletes and big business
Peping Cojuangco was finished; led down by IOC, friends and allies and his own politics of corruption, kickbacks and favouritism.
In the other camp Ricky Vargas celebrated his victory with, according to Play the Game’s sources, the words ‘audit the damn office’.
He enters the corridors of power in Philippine sports with Abraham M. ‘Bambol’ Tolentino, new elected chairman of POC and president of the Integrated Cycling Federation of the Philippines (ICFP), and a so-called Transition Team, ready to change Philippine sports and the POC. The new president comes with money too. The business tycoon Manuel ‘Manny’ V. Pangilinan, the man behind Philippine’s most popular sports, basketball and boxing, has already promised Ricky Vargas 20 million Philippine pesos, USD 383,814, to invest in the POC and Philippine sports.
“It is a brand new start for us; a lot of clean up to do. This is a victory for the athletes,” Ramon ‘El Presidente’ Fernandez, sports commissioner at PSC, states to Play the Game and continues:
“The new president will audit the POC. And the government’s Commission on Audit can proceed without hindrance on their research about the money, that POC got from PSC. And we, POC and PSC, will review all NSAs, but with priority to troubled NSAs.”
Ricky Vargas himself does not promise much.
“The NSAs want change, I hope to live up to their expectations and we will make change happen. There are a lot of things to do,” Ricky Vargas said to Philippine media after his victory and immediately extended a hand to Cojuangco and his supporters saying: “It’s all over, we have to reconcile.”
An outstretched hand, because Ricky Vargas needs Peping Cojuangco or at least his former ally Joey Romasanta on his side. Ricky Vargas has, for the moment, only five allies in the powerful POC executive board. Peping Cojuangco on the other hand will, as a former president, still sit there and he has five allies as well. So the vote of Joey Romasanta and two other independent members will be crucial if Romasanta does not get ousted from the karate and volleyball federations.
A better future for Philippine sports
Therefore, there will not be much hope for the many ousted federations, such as bowling, swimming and the Philippine Volleyball Federation (PVF), which was replaced by Romasanta’s LVPI. However, the latter still has ambitions of re-joining the POC and the international volleyball federation, FIVB.
“It will be easier on our PVF’s part now to seek reinstatement in the FIVB. The tyrant is gone. We are looking at a better future,” Edgardo ‘Boy’ Cantada, president of the PVF, says to Play the Game.
A better future for Philippine sports?
At least the sporting world of the Southeast Asian empire has gone from Cojuangco’s Hacienda Luisita to Manuel ‘Manny’ V. Pangilinan’s First Pacific Company Limited.