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Time for change has come – Vargas

ABAP president challenges Cojuangco for top POC post

Boxing association head Ricky Vargas made into reality what many thought was impossible just weeks ago: challenge incumbent Jose “Peping” Cojuangco for the presidency of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC).

Vargas, trailed by reporters and photographers, filed his certificate of candidacy yesterday at the POC office in Pasig City and said “the time for change has come.”

Ricky Rickie Vargas, president of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP), second from right, poses with other members of his ticket running in the coming Philippine Olympic Committee elections after filing their certificates of candidacy yesterday. From left are Lucas Managuelod, Bambol Tolentino, and Sonny Barrios. (Nick Giongco/ Manila Bulletin)

Ricky Rickie Vargas, president of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP), second from right, poses with other members of his ticket running in the coming Philippine Olympic Committee elections after filing their certificates of candidacy yesterday. From left are Lucas Managuelod, Bambol Tolentino, and Sonny Barrios. (Nick Giongco/ Manila Bulletin)

Vargas was accompanied by other sports officials who will be running under his ticket and the group posed for photographs with one hand extended in closed fists. The message was not lost that they are supported or seeking support from the Duterte administration.

Whether this would translate to winning the election remains to be seen as their certificates of candidacy are currently being studied by a three-man election committee headed by Cojuangco ally Frank Elizalde, formerly the country’s representative to the International Olympic Committee.

This committee will decide whether the candidates satisfy the requirements for running for the various positions in the POC including chairman, first vice president, second vice president, secretary and auditor.

As early as last month, Cojuangco, 82, appeared like he was to again run unopposed for the top POC post, the most powerful position in Philippine sports. No person seemed willing to take him on.

But as the deadline for the filing of candidacy neared, several names cropped up including Vargas, cycling’s Bambol Tolentino and football’s Mariano Araneta.

Eventually, the opposition rallied around Vargas, who appeared to have the prestige, ability and connection to be POC president. Among others, he is being backed by the resources of the Manny Pangilinan group whose Smart and PLDT concerns support many sports activities.

Also filing their certificates with Vargas were Tagaytay congressman and cycling chief Bambol Tolentino, who will be running as chairman, Lucas Managuelod of Muay Thai, second vice president, Sonny Barrios of basketball, treasurer, Negros congressman Albee Benitez, first vice president and Ting Ledesma of table tennis, auditor. The election will be held on Nov. 25.

Besides Cojuangco, there was no word on the other members of his ticket although yesterday Joey Romasanta, concurrent first vice president, reportedly announced he was running for chairman.

In announcing his bid, Vargas said he simply couldn’t ignore the repeated calls for change in the leadership of the POC. He also said he has enough votes to unseat Cojuangco who is running for a fourth four-year-term.

Vargas, 64, said many in the POC want change but are afraid to express their opinion.

“The 12-year dispensation has made them fearful of coming out,” said Vargas, noting that many of the NSAs are afraid to speak out for fear of earning Cojuangco’s ire.

He also said many athletes have come out to support his candidacy.

“The sad part is that we are getting lots of support from athletes. But we are having difficulty because they are also afraid to speak,” said Vargas.

“Takot ang mga atleta at NSAs,” said Vargas, who is president of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP). He also heads the water utility firm Maynilad, one of MVP’s flagship companies.

The immediate problem confronting Vargas and his group is not the election per se, which is a month away, but whether they will be allowed to run.

Under the rules, a candidate for president has to be an active member of the bi-monthly general assembly, an official function that Vargas hardly attended in all his years as ABAP president.

Vargas insists that it would be sad if Elizalde doesn’t allow him to run on the basis of his absences during the GA.

“That’s unreasonable,” said Vargas, noting that if that criteria is upheld, only those aligned with Cojuangco will be allowed to run.

Tolentino laments that should the POC stick to that rule, it would only show that politics will once again succeed in ruining a purely sports affair.

“It would be unfortunate if they resort to disqualification,” said Tolentino, who will have Tom Carrasco of triathlon as rival for the post.

If elected, Vargas declared that he is willing to step down as head of Maynilad so he can devote his time to the POC even as he laid out his plans the next four years.

“If this will require me to go full time, I am willing to resign,” said Vargas.

“First, we will empower – and not dictate – on the NSA and allow them to grow. Secondly, we will provide good governance…thirdly, gauge NSAs on performance…work side by side with the Philippine Sports Commission’s grassroots development and lastly, to be able to speak on behalf of our NSAs before the IOC and get support for them.”

The POC has a voting cast of 44 members, 41 NSAs, two from the athletes’ commission and one from the IOC representative who happens to be Cojuangco’s daughter, Mikee Jaworski.

If Vargas’s candidacy doesn’t get the approval, his group would not back down and will seek legal remedy to address the problem.

But if elected, Vargas vows to make a huge difference.

“We will develop a stronger POC that has a mission for PH sports not for us to appreciate but for our athletes to benefit for.”

Still, Vargas admits he has to hurdle the first step – convincing Elizalde that he deserves to run.

“We are not asking for anything else. Just let me run.”