(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Horse owners won the joust against Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) Chairman Florencio Fianza when President Arroyo finally ordered his dismissal.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said yesterday that lawyer Jose Ferdinand Rojas II, a member of the Philracom board and son-in-law of Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, was named Fianza’s replacement.

“I just had a call, there will be a new head at Philracom, one of the board of directors will sit. Somebody else will be appointed and that will settle the differences,” Ermita said at a press conference at Malacañang.

However, Fianza said he has not received any “official order” from Ermita or Bunye or any other Palace official about his being relieved as Philracom chairman.

Interviewed by The STAR last night, Fianza said he has neither resigned nor went on leave as Philracom chairman.

“I can only repeat the order I received, and the order I received is I will proceed to the United States for an official mission,” Fianza said.

In fact, he said, he will be leaving for New York anytime this week to attend the United Nations Assembly meeting. Fianza is also a Special Envoy for Transnational Crime.

Fianza also disclosed that he was the one who designated Rojas as officer-in-charge while he is on official mission in the US.

“I could be gone for as long as two weeks,” Fianza said in a statement. “This is a more pressing matter that needs immediate attention. I am going there on the directive of Malacañang. And, to begin with, this job (Special Envoy) is my first job before the Philracom.”

Fianza was embroiled in a dispute with the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (Marho), the Philippine Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (Philtobo), and Klub Don Juan De Manila over the handicapping system and other issues.

The horse owners’ groups boycotted the races in protest, forcing the Sta. Ana Park to cancel scheduled racing programs last weekend. The racing holiday extended to the San Lazaro Leisure Park, which also did not hold races Tuesday and Wednesday.

With the row settled, the SLLP said it will resume its weekday races tonight, with the three groups allowing their members to declare their respective entries.

There will be no races, however, involving three-year-old horses.

“I have appealed to all the groups to end their holiday so that we can all go back to work and further develop the industry,” Rojas told The STAR in a telephone interview.

“I’m open to meet with them and have a dialogue on their concerns on the industry and from there we can move on,” said Rojas, brother of former top horse owner Rolly Rojas.

The Marho group welcomed Rojas’ appointment.

“This is a moral victory not just for horse owners but for all sectors of the racing industry. We want to thank the President for listening to our clamor for a change in the leadership of the Philracom. We also want to thank everybody who sacrificed with us while the racing holiday was in effect,” said Marho president and Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos.

Marho vice president Eric Tagle said the horse owners will immediately seek an audience with Rojas to thresh out the controversial policies on handicapping that led to the racing holiday declared by protesting owners over the weekend.

But Fianza maintained the groups were protesting his policies to protect their own interests. He has been very firm in his stand of “serving the betting public and coming up with a level playing field.”

The owners raised a howl when Fianza implemented a handicapping scheme that confined juveniles and three-year-old horses into running only against each other and disallowed these horses from going down to a lower group, even after losses.

Fianza contended that this has been the worldwide practice and that the old handicapping system is flawed.

Ermita said Fianza was not formally sworn in as Philracom chairman and was occupying the post in a holdover capacity. He said he was not aware if Fianza tendered his resignation with Mrs. Arroyo but added the former did not appeal the decision.

Bunye said he received a call Tuesday night from Bernardino Abes, chairman of the Palace search committee, asking for the telephone number of his son-in-law. Rojas is married to Bunye’s daughter, Patricia.

Rojas has been a Philracom commissioner since 2006 and head of his own law office since 2000. His law firm specializes in corporate law litigation/trial practice, labor and social legislation, and intellectual property law.

He was also board secretary of the Philippine National Oil Co. from 1998 to 1999.

He obtained his law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University in 1988. He graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts degree major in economics and political science.

He has also been serving as director and corporate secretary of Philtobo since 1997.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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