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By: Glendale G. Rosal, JOSE SANTINO BUNACHITA June 06,2017 - 10:05 PM

Mary Joy Tabal, the newly crowned Ottawa half marathon champion, answers questions from reporters regarding her expulsion from the national team for the upcoming SEA Games / CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA

Cebuana Olympian Mary Joy Tabal is not alone in her quest to be reinstated in the national athletics team and represent the country in the Southeast Asian Games.

She has the support of Cebu officials who want the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) to explain why the country’s number one marathoner cannot compete in the SEA Games where she won silver in 2015.

Even Tabal, the only Filipino to have competed in the Olympics marathon, was at a loss on how she could have violated Patafa’s rules.

“I did nothing wrong. I just want to bring honor to the country,” said Tabal, struggling to hold back tears when she faced reporters on Tuesday.

The Patafa, the country’s governing body for athletics, dropped Tabal from the national team on Monday, accusing her of breaking the federation’s rules and regulations.

Patafa’s decision triggered an uproar among the Cebu officials.

The Cebu City Council passed a resolution during the regular session on Wednesday asking the Patafa through its president Philip Ella Juico to reconsider their earlier decision to exclude the 28-year-old Tabal.

At the same time, the city council is also asking the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to intervene in the ongoing dispute.

Both resolutions were passed by the council in mass motion, which meant all councilors were named as authors.

“She has labored and worked hard and done the best that is in her. The will to win is important, the will to prepare is (also important), and though winning isn’t everything, wanting to win is. It is important for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes,” said Councilor Eugenio Gabuya Jr., deputy mayor on sports, in a privilege speech that moved his colleagues to pass the resolution.

PSC Commissioner Ramon “El Presidente” Fernandez assured Tabal that they would fight for her reinstatement.

“For me personally, this is all about pride. Why discriminate an athlete who comes from the province who prefers to train in her birthplace and not move to Manila? She gave honor to our country and has grassroots program here in Cebu,” said Fernandez.

Tabal has a grassroots running program for children in Barangay Guba where she comes from.

But Patafa took it against Tabal who decided to train in Cebu City instead of Manila for the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this August.

“They are forcing her to train there when in fact they are letting Filipino foreign athletes to train in their own countries with allowances. It’s a very clear discrimination,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez said Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu’s 3rd district planned to file a resolution in Congress to look into the Tabal-Patafa issue.

“I advised Joy to write a reinstatement letter for the second time. I am also working on how to get Joy back to the national team,” he added.

Tabal arrived in Cebu City on Monday night following a 26-hour flight from Canada.

She was supposed to celebrate her triumph in the Scotia Bank Ottawa Marathon last May 29 where she won the 21-km race and broke the national record in the process.

Tabal clocked 1:16.29 in Ottawa which bettered her national mark of 1:18.44 which she logged in 2015 in Japan.

But what was supposed to be a happy and victorious celebration on Tuesday turned gloomy with the news of her expulsion by Patafa head Juico.
In a hastily called press conference on Monday in Manila, Juico accused Tabal of violating Patafa’s rules.

These included the Cebuana’s insistence on training here in Cebu and not in Manila like the other national athletes.

Patafa also took offense on Tabal’s corporate sponsors and her stints in international races without permission from the Patafa.

But Tabal told reporters that she thought these issues had already been ironed out when her team and the Patafa met last year for her reinstatement so she could compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I don’t have a single idea on how I broke Patafa’s rules and regulations. I don’t know what they mean. But right now I am planning to send another reinstatement letter to them with the hopes of representing the country in the Sea Games,” Tabal said.

Juico, for his part, said there is still hope for Tabal.

“She wants to come back. She is welcome,” said Juico in a phone interview.

“She just has to respect and follow Patafa’s standards, rules and regulations and values and then we can talk,” he added.

Juico also stressed that they don’t want divisiveness in their organization.

He claimed that contrary to earlier reports, it was Tabal who resigned from the Patafa.

“I am a businessman. I am a former Cabinet member and I do business honorably,” Juico said. “The problem there in Cebu is that the issue was not defined as what most Filipinos see it. It’s a complete opposite there so stop demonizing Patafa.”

Jonel Borromeo, head of Motorace Philippines which is Tabal’s corporate sponsor, said they would continue supporting Cebu’s running sensation.

“It’s not the end of the line for Joy but we are still hoping for the best and see her compete in the Sea Games. She can run in other races this year if she’s not reinstated,” Borromeo said.

He said they were willing to scout for major races abroad where Tabal can compete if the Patafa issue will not be resolved.

Despite the uncertainty, Tabal and her coach Philip Dueñas will return to Tuscany, Italy on Wednesday to train there for two months then head to Saint Moritz, Switzerland to do high altitude training.

Tabal trained for a month in Tuscany last April which she credited for her win in the Ottawa Marathon last month.

“I was expecting that I can compete in the Sea Games because they (Patafa) already announced it last February during the PSA awards. I was totally shocked when the news of my expulsion came out. In fact, I was planning to send them my Canada record,” she said.

Tabal also said that after crying over this matter, she has to move on.

“I will get over this. I will make this as a motivation to become a better person, a better runner because I know a lot of people are at my back to support me.”

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TAGS: athletics, gets, MASSIVE, national, officials, represent, struggling, support, Tabal

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