THE UAAP’s attempt to kick the FESSAP out of the Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) was a huge and well-deserved failure.
At the general assembly of the world body, the UAAP application to replace the Federation of School Sports Associations as the legitimate Philippine representative at FISU was roundly defeated.
The delegation from the UAAP, backed by signed and spoken endorsements from the Philippine Olympic Committee headed by President Benigno S. Cojuangco Aquino’s uncle, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco and the government’s Committee on Higher Education (CHED), had inexplicably succeeded in placing on the agenda the removal of the Federation of School Sports Associations of the Philippines (FESSAP) and the admission of UAAP in FESSAP’s place.
FESSAP, as the extant, legally established FISU-member Philippine organization was never formally informed of the UAAP moves by the FISU’s French president Claude Gallien.
But, with the support of the members of FISU at the general assembly against the will of the body’s president, the FESSAP fought for and won its right to continue being the
recognized Filipino body in FISU.
FESSAP’s victory was as well that of the right of the student athletes of non-UAAP-member schools, colleges, institutes and universities to continue participating in the Universaide and other “school Olympics” organized by the FISU.
The UAAP attempt to dislodge FESSAP is one more instance of how politics—control of sports leadership by nationally known, wealthy and powerful figures—has become more important than sports development and giving every Filipino a chance to grow in his or her chosen athletic field.
Former national swimmer Atty. Maria Luz Arzaga-Mendoza, now one of the coutry’s most successful legal eagles, told The Times how she and the rest of the FESSAP delegates prevented the FESSAP’s expulsion, which would have been against FISU rules had it succeeded.
“Somebody told me I should be in Kazan, the capital of the Russian Republic of Tarkistan, by July 3 so I could be at the July 3 to 4 FISU general assembly because we would be removed,” Arzaga-Mendoza told The Manila Times.
The interview last week with this correspondent and Times Sports Editor Perry Gil Mallari and Publisher-Editor Rene Bas was given by Atty. Arzaga Mendoza, FESSAP President David Ong, former senator and Diliman Preparatory School President Nikki Coseteng (whose school has fielded athletes who have won medals at the Universiade) and Philippine Swimming League president Susan Papa. They were among the members of the FESSAP delegation, including 29 athletes, in Kazan, Russia, for the 2013 Universiade Games last July 6 to 17.
The should have been double the 29 athletes had UAAP university authorities not blocked their participation.
“Somebody—the UAAP group —will be admitted to the FISU and take over your spot—our source there in Kazan told me,” Arzaga-Mendoza said.
With the others, Arzaga-Mendoza immediately flew to Kazan. On arrival, she immediately went to see FISU President Claude Gallien to ask him what was happening and why the status of FESSAP was being changed without FESSAP being told about it.
The 6’7″ Frenchman told her not to make any trouble because the UAAP’s application to become FISU’s newest member, representing the Philippines and replacing FESSAP was a done deal among the FISU leadership and would be announced during the general assembly.
“We were being bullied. But we never lost hope. There is such a thing as the law and the rules of the organization. I resolved not to allow the towering FISU president, who told me his decision was backed by the best legal minds. I told him he just happened to be dealing with also one of the best lawyers in my part of the world,” the feisty former champion swimmer told us.
“I told Gallien that page by page, from start to the last, I know the law and the rules governing FISU, “ she added. Their acrimonious meeting ended with FESSAP not being given the proper seats as a FISU member and with Gallien telling her that she would not be allowed to speak at the session hall.
She also paid a tribute to the power of prayer.
Before the general assembly began she and the other FESSAP delegates saw that the UAAP contingent were being given seats that should have been for FESSAP’s delegates.
The UAAP representatives were UAAP Board member Ricky Palou, Emmanuel Fernandez and Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Secretary-General Steve Hontiveros. They behaved like proper delegates like those from the other 166 countries that are members of FISU.
The three-man UAAP delegation, headed by Ricky Palou of Ateneo de Manila, flew in from Manila to Kazan with the mission to convince the FISU general assembly to remove FESSAP and accept UAAP as the Philippines’ sole representative to the Lausanne, Switzerland-based global university sports body.
They brought with endorsement letters from the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) under its President Jose Cojuangco Jr. and the Commission on Higher Education.
Among the points in the letters was that the UAAP, which has only eight regular member universities, is the biggest and most popular sports organization in the country.
The Filipina lawyer insisted to Gallien that FESSAP had not done anything wrong, not even a single small violation of FISU rules and by-laws. What she asked was the justification for FESSAP’s expulsion,
FISU by-laws only allows one representation per country. FESSAP has been in good standing also since 2009.
“He (Gallien) was pressured by the general assembly not to remove us although there was already a plan to strike out our membership,” said Arzaga-Mendoza. “God is good with us despite all the pressure we’ve felt during that day.”
She mentioned that it was after she spoke to some members of the FISU legal commission that Gallien appears to have changed.
She had attempted to be recognized from the floor but the presiding officer kept ignoring her until someone on stage, perhaps the United States delegate, said, “Let her speak.”
She was finally recognized and gave the speech that moved the delegates into giving her a a big round of applause.
So on the final day of general assembly the FISU president announced that FESSAP would remain the official representative of the Philippines due to its good standing as an active member since 2009. It was declared that the application for admission of the UAAP group was turned down.
FESSAP President David Ong told The Times that his association has been very active in giving student athletes from all over the archipelago a chance to represent the country in a world university and school competitions like those under FISU.
At the same time, Ong emphasized, FESSAP shouldered all the expenses of the participants.
“It’s not only about winning but also sports development that drives us to help our student athletes to achieve their dreams of representing the Philippines in high class world competitions, like FISU’s Universiade,” said Ong. “We have been sending athletes since 2009. We already won a silver and this year a gold medal.”
Ong was referring to the 2011 silver medal of Tae Kwon Do champion Samuel Thomas Morrison from Far Eastern University and chess player Wesley So’s gold medal in this year’s Universiade in Kazan.
The FISU University Games or Universiade is held every after two years like the Southeast Asian Games. The Philippines was expected to join in different sports like basketball, chess, tae kwon do, judo, tennis, table tennis and swimming, among others.
This year’s FESSAP delegates were led by chess superstars Wesley So and Mary Israel Palero and UAAP swimming champion Marie Claire Adorna of University of the Philippines.
But overall only 29 student athletes under FESSAP participated in Universiade while more than 50 were disallowed by their respective schools due to the dispute between FESSAP and the UAAP.
Ong also gave the assurance that all the athletes FESSAP brought to any world competitions have returned properly to our country. “Personally, I heard a lot of gossip regarding human smuggling. Well that’s not true since we all know that China and Russia are both strict in terms of immigration laws.”
Former Senator Nikki Coseteng, meanwhile, said that the University of the Philippines’ Adorna was being pressured by her coaches when she returned home. UP is a member of the UAAP and its board members had issued a memorandum to all their student athletes not to join to FESSAP in the Universiade.
A memorandum, in fact, has been released to all school members that any athletes who will not comply will be automatically suspended for one year. That memorandum was signed by UAAP secretary-general Maria Luisa Isip of host Adamson University last June 7.
“I’m wondering right now why they do not allow their athletes to join us in Universiade and yet now they are applying for recognition by FISU,” said Coseteng, citing that La Salle University pulled out chess player, Jan Jodilyn Fronda and the entire judo team that had been chosen to go the Universiade.
Several FISU delegates raised questions about the UAAP memorandum questioning its decision to ban student athletes from going to the Universiade.
And that was exactly the main reason why the FISU general assembly denied the UAAP admission to the FISU family and rejected its bid to kick out FESSAP.
At the same time, FESSAP has proven itself that it considered all the talents from all universities, schools and colleges in the Philippines including the country’s oldest group, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for participation in FISU’s Universiade.
FESSAP officers said they also ready to face UAAP again in any legal battle about FISU recognition,
And indeed the UAAP has proclaimed that the “War is not yet over.” [See related story on this page.]