Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A UAAP Showdown of a different kind

The UAAP Basketball season is winding down to its exciting finish and conspicuously absent is De La Salle University, a perennial Final Four placer. The school’s varsity teams have been suspended for a year’s play because of alleged infractions incurred by two members of its men’s basketball team, but to date, there has been no official statement or closure about the case.

The whole suspension of the La Salle athletic program from UAAP play stemmed from the discovery of the ineligibility of Tim Gatchalian III and Mark Lester Benitez both who were said to have used spurious PEP Test results to gain admission into DLSU without even passing high school at Jose Rizal University. La Salle offered to do their own internal investigation and voluntarily returned their 2004 basketball trophy as proof of their willingness to fix the problem. DLSU’s investigation pointed to former team manager Manny Salgado and team official Awoo Lacson as the culprits behind the recruiting controversy that drew vehement denials from both men. Benitez and Gatchalian were taken off not only from the team but from DLSU. The UAAP board deemed it not to be enough and suspended the school’s team from competing in the UAAP in Season 69, drawing a surprising combative response from DLSU who hinted at taking the matter to court.

A report was completed by the UAAP board as of April 17, 2006, but the contents of the investigation were never made public. Why the hush hush? Are the contents too explosive to reveal?

A report obtained by this paper reveals how disgraced ex-Green Archer Mark Lester Benitez was asked to strike off the record certain big-ups from the school or its basketball/booster program by someone from the school’s administration. Marcelino Benitez, the father of Mark was also interviewed by the UAAP fact-finding committee to whom he made known his surprise that DLSU’s official transcript of their interviews was missing some of their comments that implicated the basketball program boosters. The report quotes the elder Benitez as saying that, “Parang pinasulat niya (the school official) ako ng kung ano yung mag ilabas ko about kung… hindi na ako magbabanggit about kay (NAMES DELETED HERE) kasi matataas daw yun… mahirap kalabanin.

The elder Benitez likewise saved text messages (that was presented to the fact-finding committee as evidence) from a team official who feared that “Patay tayo kung umamin si Mark na hindi siya nag second (PEP) test.” Both Benitez and Gatchalian took a first PEP Test which they didn’t pass. Both said in their testimony that they were surprised when they were presented with PEP Test certificates by team officials that qualified them for enrollment at DLSU.

The younger Benitez and the team’s former manager Manny Salgado also testified that that there is a special entrance exam for athletes who enter the university.

The UAAP Fact-Finding Committee requested for a copy of DLSU’s transcript of its investigation. Dr. Carmelita I. Quebengco, DLSU Executive Vice President, personally promised the school’s full cooperation but upon their lawyer’s advice, didn’t furnish the board with the transcript of the proceedings. To date, both the UAAP board and DLSU have not met to discuss the report and its eventual ruling. What gives? Will things just be swept under the rug?

According to a UAAP board member who chose to remain anonymous, La Salle’s unwillingness to meet up could possibly mean that they have accepted the board’s decision to suspend their participation in all UAAP competition for the year. Furthermore, according to the source, the suspension of La Salle’s athletes doesn’t count in their players’ eligibility years. Isn’t it if a basketball player from a UAAP team is suspended for fighting or some other infraction then that automatically disqualified him from MVP voting? So why doesn’t this suspension count in terms of playing years?

After reading the report, there are still many unanswered questions. DLSU received two copies of the report and the transcripts. Now maybe they have done further investigations since some of their top boosters and officials have been named in the report in one way or another. Then again maybe they have not. In fact, we have learned that one of those named in the report is being eyed to replace DLSU’s current representative to the UAAP board. It’s sad that collegiate athletics once deemed the last bastion of pure unadulterated play has suffered from greed, corruption, and exploitation. It was said that a school’s athletes competed for love of the sport and their school. Maybe for some, winning is everything. But at what cost?

In his last statement to the UAAP board, Marcelino Benitez lamented the misfortune that has befallen his family and his son. With his son’s basketball career and life in tatters, the father parted with a lump on his throat, “Kung alam ko lang mangyayari iyon, hindi ko na pinag-aral yung anak ko…

Cliffhanger of a sentence? Well, so was the UAAP board’s investigation.

You all just have to ask them for the rest of the transcript.

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