First of two parts
Back in June this year, I began preparations for a book on Philippine Sports Commission (POC) Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez, whose life story has so fascinated me that I felt it was something that needed sharing widely in order to inspire all those striving to surmount their own lives’ difficulties. Part 2 of the book deals with the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG), which unfolded at Clark City sports complex yesterday. What most people don’t know was that Southeast Asia’s premier sports spectacle almost didn’t make through the storm of the Philippine Olympic Committee. How the 30th SEAG organizers pulled off the gigantic task is something for the books indeed.
The other side of the POC coin
But Butch might just have another story to tell.
Whether or not did it ever occur to him that the next SEAG would be taking place during his watch at Philsports is not clear, but at any rate, into the advent of 2019, Butch found his hands full preparing for the country’s hosting of South East Asia’s premier sports event.
Now, by tradition, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) is the governing body responsible for holding international sports meets sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Article I (Aims), Section 1 of its Constitution and by-laws provides: “k — To organize, together with the respective National Sports Associations, the preparation and selection of athletes, thereby ensuring that the Philippines is represented at the Olympic Games as well as at regional, continental and intercontinental games having the patronage of the International Olympic Committee.”
It was in line with this responsibility so provided for in the POC Constitution and By-Laws that the-POC President Ricky Vargas, upon his controversial firing of Peping Cojuangco and company from their appointive posts in the organization last May, designated Butch, being PSC chairman, chef-de-mission of the Philippine Team to the SEAG, replacing Vice Chairman Monsiour del Rosario of the Philippine Taekwondo Association.
At the same time, Vargas likewise became co-chairmen with Butch and former Foreign Affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano of the ad hoc committee for the creation of a new body to oversee the sports spectacle: the Philippine South East Asian Games Organizing Committee (Phisgoc).
It was farfetched from Butch’s mind that the development would steer him into the storm brewing within the POC as a consequence of an action taken by Vargas during the POC General Assembly on May 27, 2019. Citing “loss of trust and confidence” as reason, the POC president terminated the appointments to their respective duties in the POC board of Peping Cojuangco as Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, which Vargas temporarily took over, along with other board members, who included Joey Romasanta, to be replaced by POC chairman Abrahamn “Bambol” Tolentino as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics chef-de-mission; Robert Bachmann, to be replaced by Lucas Managuelod of Muay as the POC membership committee chairman, and Monsour Del Rosario, to be replaced by who else but Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Butch Ramirez as Team Philippines chef-de-mission in the upcoming 2019 SEAG.
People will recall that back in February last year, Vargas deposed Cojuangco as POC president over certain issues. But Cojuangco who, for 13 years, had made the POC virtually his own private preserve, had not been quite kicked out of the Olympic body but only got downsized to the POC board. In that capacity, he could still make things happen.
It was in such scheme of things that PSC Chairman Ramirez found himself getting enmeshed.
Initially, a request was made by the POC secretary general to Vargas to call a meeting of the POC Executive Board where to take up the formation of the PHishoc, as cited above.
But anticipating the entry of new board members, Vargas declined to act on the request until after the election of those members had taken place. The Cojuangco group in the POC Executive Board proceeded with the requested meeting anyway, invoking a provision in the POC Constitution and by-laws which states: “Article VIII — Executive Board, Section 2) The Executive Board shall hold meetings at least once a month. It can validly act only if the majority of its members are present, which in no case shall be less than seven (7).
“Attending that meeting were Peping Cojuangco, Jonne Go, Jose Romasanta, Antonio Tamayo, Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, Julian Camacho and Clint Aranas — seven in all, all heads of National Sports Associations.
Peping Cojuangco and company had been raising the issue of “conflict of interest” in Ricky Vargas’ being a lead convenor of the Phosgoc, which the group deemed a duplication of, and therefore rivaled, the POC. As borne by the minutes of that meeting, the group resolved that the creation of the Phosgoc “clearly usurped” the power of the POC to organize the SEAG.
Whether deliberate or not, Vargas did not attend that “special board meeting.” “Skipped” was how news accounts termed Vargas’ failure to attend. In that meeting, the seven attendees, claiming to be the majority with a non-board member reportedly acting as secretary to take down the minutes, demanded from Vargas thus: “explain and clarify in writing within 5 days regarding the incorporation of the Philippine SEA Games Organizing Committee.”
That was the last straw — or so did Ricky Vargas, in the POC general assembly on May 27, 2019, announce his decision to terminate the appointments of Peping Cojuangco et al to their posts in the POC Board.
The chairman’s view
Butch would see the problem in this light. It appeared Vargas was not familiar with the POC charter which in Article III, Section 1, Letter B provides — “It shall be the sole authority responsible for the representation of the Philippines at the Olympic Games, Youth Olympic Games, Asian Games, Southeast Asian Games, as well as other events held under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia and to undertake the organization of these Games when they are held in the Philippines.
The term representation as used herein covers the decision to participate and the entry of athletes selected by their respective National Sports Associations (NSAs).”
By this provision, it would seem Cojuangco and company were in the right in insisting that it took charge of the holding of the 19th SEAG. And in questioning Vargas’ participation in the creation of the Phosgoc, they have this provision of the POC charter to justify their action.
To reiterate, Conjuango et al viewed such creation as a usurpation of POC’s power to hold games sanctioned by the IOC.
Butch would look at it another way thus, “It was normal for the POC, a private organization which is the umbrella for all the National Sports Associations of the Philippines, to seek support from the government through PSC.” He would recall that in 2005, when the Philippines last hosted the SEAG, all government financial support to the games, by mandate of law, was coursed through the PSC under close supervision of the Department of Budget Management and the Commission on Audit. Butch should know, he was PSC chairman at the time.
When the Phisgoc was created with POC President Ricky Vargas as one of three prime convenors, no problem would arise in matters of who would manage the 2019 SEAG. Butch was clear on this. The Phisgoc is just an organizing committee, tasked with attending to the logistical needs of the upcoming SEAG. President Duterte himself was the effective chairman of Phisgoc. Three officials, as discussed above, were designated co-chairmen of the ad hoc organizing committee — Former Foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, POC President Ricky Vargas and Butch himself, in his capacity as PSC chairman.
But then, beginning at the end of first quarter of 2019, the struggle for leadership in the POC was getting intense. That was when Vargas deposed Cojuangco as POC president via regular elections. Of the 43 voting members of the POC, all heads of NSAs, Vargas garnered 24 while Cojuangco managed to salvage just 15.
Not quite calling it quits in the leadership intramurals at POC, Cojuangco and his loyalists in the POC Executive Board called that “special board meeting” which resolved to make Vargas explain why he should not be charged with committing conflict of interest in actively participating in the creation of the Phisgoc, knowing full well that such move would amount to a usurpation of POC power to hold the SEAG. A letter to that effect sent to Vargas by the Cojuangco group ultimately enraged Vargas. At the POC general assembly on May 27, 2019, Vargas announced the firing of Cojuangco and his coterie in the POC executive board from their appointive positions. Eventual circumstances must prove favorable to Cojuangco’s clique. What amount of pressure was made to bear upon Vargas after that is not immediately known, but not long after the dismissal of the Cojuangco group from their posts, Vargas met the press and announced that he was resigning as President of POC.