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‘Be happy with what you are doing and never give up,’ Asiad pole vault champ EJ Obiena said

By WILSON LEE FLORES, The Philippine Star Published Oct 15, 2023 5:00 am

Born and raised in the historic yet tough neighborhood of Tondo district, Manila, Asia’s most famous male track and field athlete and the world’s No. 2 best pole vault athlete Ernest John “EJ” Uy Obiena shared this advice to people aspiring for success, in reply to media questions at Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) Building in Binondo, Manila on Oct. 10: “I don’t think there’s a specific blueprint to… just put someone there and become very successful. But if there’s gonna be an integral part, you need to be happy in what you do. You need to enjoy what you do, so that any hardship that comes your way, something you consider part of the game or part of your journey.”

The 27-year-old Obiena said those words at a press conference held after FFCCCII led by president Dr. Cecilio K. Pedro presented him with a check for P5 million as a reward for his bringing honor to the Philippines in the recent Hangzhou Asian Games and also as a support for his bid for a gold medal in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Obiena not only won the Philippines’ first Hangzhou Asian Games gold medal and broke the Asiad record two times, it was also the country’s first-ever track and field Asiad gold in 37 years

Scholarship recipients now ASIAD Champ & Billionaire ‘Brandy King’

In his response, Obiena recalled his student days accompanying his mother on visits to the same FFCCCII building and to other Filipino-Chinese community organizations to get signatures and receive checks for scholarships.

EJ’s inspiring and humble story recalls the world’s No. 1 biggest “Brandy King” Emperador, Inc. founder and realty developer Megaworld Corp. chairman Andrew L. Tan.

“Be happy with what you are doing and never give up,” EJ Obiena said on his success

Tan related to me how, as a youth, ge and his parents used to go to the Liong Tek Go Association (Go clan association) in Binondo, Manila to receive scholarship money to pay his tuition fees. A member of the Go clan, Andrew Tan is today one of the most generous donors to Liong Tek Go Association and a philanthropist who’s also honorary executive adviser of FFCCCII.

FFCCCII honorary president Dr. Francis Chua on the same occasion added his personal gift of P1 million for Obiena. Chua said Obiena (an adopted surname) and he are both from the same Chua clan and also from the same ancestral village of Tengtang in the county-level city of Jinjiang, Quanzhou City, Fujian province, south China.

Four days earlier, FFCCCII honorary executive adviser Ambassador Carlos Chan of the Oishi snacks/Liwayway Group also gave Obiena P1 million, the athlete’s alma mater Chiang Kai Shek College gave him P3 million, and Philippine Quanzhou Association president Anson Tan also gave the athlete P1 million.

(From left) Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) EVP Victor Lim, president Dr. Cecilio Pedro, EJ Uy Obiena, honorary president Dr. Francis Chua and 1st VP William Gosiaco at FFCCCII

Commenting on the advice of Obiena, Dr. Cecilio Pedro said: “During that time, tuluy-tuloy pa rin ang training niya, di ba? And that is very inspiring. Kahit na nahihirapan, kahit kulang na ang budget, tuloy pa rin, di ba? (During that time, he continued his training, didn’t he? And that is very inspiring. Even if he was having difficulties, even when he was lacking in funds, he still continued, didn’t he?).

“Ang pagsisikap, kailangan tuluy-tuloy. Bawal sumuko. Ang sumuko, talo, di ba? Ang hindi sumusuko, yan ang mananalo (When striving, it is important to just continue. Do not surrender. Those who give in lose, isn’t it? Those who don’t surrender, they win).

Young EJ Uy Obiena and his dad in 1995 Southeast Asian Games pole vault silver medalist Emerson Chua Obiena

Dr. Pedro added: “If you give up, that's the end. You have to continue in spite of struggles, in spite of problems, in spite of difficulties. And that’s what EJ symbolizes. That's why he continues to work, and he's going back to Paris to work, hopefully, for the Olympic gold medal… Kakayanin niya yan (He can achieve that)!"

Ang pagsisikap, kailangan tuluy-tuloy. Bawal sumuko. Ang sumuko, talo, di ba? Ang hindi sumusuko, yan ang mananalo.

I asked Obiena how he overcame his past difficulties, especially the once highly-publicized controversies about his lack of funding for his training in Europe. The athlete replied: “I was able to do it with a lot of people's help.”

Obiena win promoted traditional friendship & sports goodwill

When asked for his reaction to the surprisingly encouraging cheers of the mostly Chinese crowd at the packed 80,000-seat Hangzhou Olympic Stadium on the day of his victory, especially since one of his top competitors was Chinese athlete Huang Bokai who eventually finished behind him to win a silver medal, Obiena smiled and replied: “It was definitely opposite of what I expected. I was expecting boos, especially as I was going toe-to-toe against the Chinese team.”

Obiena added: “I was expecting a loud and long boo but it was totally opposite. There were lots of cheers, lots of positive energy. And for a moment in time, I think it was not about Chinese or Filipino, you know. It was all of Asia watching the best of Asian athletes compete. And I think that unifies the whole continent.”

The sportsmanship of Obiena and his being friendly to all his competitors, including Chinese rival Huang, all helped promote the traditional friendship and apolitical sports goodwill between the Philippines and China.

Dr. Cecilio K. Pedro said that the whole Filipino-Chinese community thanks him to bringing honor to our ethnic minority and for bringing glory to the Philippines. Dr. Pedro said: “He excellently personifies the 'Dugong Tsino, Pusong Pinoy’ spirit. We cherish our ethnic Chinese heritage and at the same time we are full-pledged Filipino citizens who champion Philippine progress."


Free Medical & Dental Oct. 15, Free Pandesal & other foods Oct. 16

Today, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, the public is invited to a free medical and dental mission by volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and staff of FFCCCII and the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center at 84-year-old Kamuning Bakery Café in Barangay Kamuning, Quezon City on the eve of #WorldPandesalDay.

All are also invited to Kamuning Bakery Café on “World Pandesal Day,” Monday, Oct. 16, 10 a.m., where Senate Food & Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Cynthia Aguilar Villar will lead the ceremony to start the distribution of 100,000 pandesal breads, Eden cheese, Mega sardines, King Sue hams, juices and other gifts for urban poor communities, orphanages, students and teachers of nearby public schools.