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.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Patriot Games

Patriot Games
The playoff for the future of Philippine Basketball
words & photo by rick olivares

If you ask Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) President Manuel V. Pangilinan why he champions sports, his answer is a swift and unequivocal belief that the young, through sports and their athletic achievements, can do so much for flag and country.

For youthful sports patron Michael “Mikee” Romero who is likewise generous in his support of various sports endeavors, the athletes are “a resource for our future.”

“They inspire us to reach new heights,” he summed it up with a hopeful note to let the message sink in.

Said National Team player Gabe Norwood about representing the Philippines in international play, “Man… any time you represent your country, it’s an honor. It’s huge and I can tell you that.”

The days of the Philippines being the eminent basketball power in Asia are spoken in the past tense. Although several decades removed from those glory days, they remain still vivid in many people’s memories.

The upside of championship photographs that are turning brown with age is that everyone knows that the Filipino is way too talented to stay grounded forever. Our so-called lack of ceiling be damned.

Following a humiliating suspension by Fédération Internationale de Basketball (FIBA), the SBP rose from the ashes of the warring Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) and Pilipinas Basketball factions and has gotten the country back on the world’s basketball map. And as the organization and its national teams have begun their march towards redemption and a slot for an Olympic berth that will not only fire an entire nation’s imagination but open a world of possibilities for a country that is struggling to find itself in the 21st century, they find themselves locked in deadly battle with a foe much tougher than any constituted Dream or Redeem Team.

The “implicit threat” to the still new local cage group comes from a resurgent BAP which incidentally is not recognized as the national sports association by the courts of law and basketball’s international governing body, FIBA.

That is until about a month ago when the latter’s officials met with the BAP during a clandestine meeting in Hong Kong; an act that gave life to their dreams of ruling local basketball again.

At an early morning press conference last Wednesday June 24, 2009 at the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company’s corporate headquarters in Makati City, the SBP – Corporate Secretary Attorney Marievic Añonuevo, PBA Chairman Joaquin Trillo, Vice Chairman of the Board Victorico “Ricky” Vargas, Executive Director Jose Emmanuel “Noli” Eala, Romero, and Pangilinan –expressed dismay and veiled anger at a series of email and fax exchanges with FIBA regarding being summoned for an inquest.

The latest email dated June 20, 2009, was sent by FIBA Secretary General Emeritus Borislav Stankovic who was also named as the Chairman of the Special Commission whose members included Dr. Carl Men Ky Ching, FIBA Honorary President, and Dr. Ken Madsen, FIBA’s Legal Counsel.

Ching, pointed out Vargas, is a known ally of the BAP’s Go Teng Kok and Graham Lim. “This whole business of being summoned without being informed of the charges against the SBP,” underscored the longtime business partner of Pangilinan, “looks like a trap.”

In Stankovic’s email, he addressed SBP Chairman Oscar Moreno and Pangilinan as well as the BAP and its chairman, Luis Villafuerte and its President Prospero Pitchay: “Your organizations are herewith summoned to a meeting to resolve the ongoing controversy. This meeting will be held in Geneva on 20, 21, and 22 July 2009.”

The SBP took offense at the duplicitous nature of the proceedings given that FIBA, through its current Secretary General Patrick Baumann, wrote in an official memorandum dated 13 May 2008 that the FIBA Central Board decided “to disregard any communication coming from the former organization BAP as it has no rights to FIBA.”

And in a 16-page decision last November 18, 2008, the Philippines’ Court of Appeals Special 9th Division overturned the Manila Regional Trial Court’s ruling that recognized the BAP. The new decision upheld the SBP’s legitimacy and its Unity Congress that was held at the Dusit Hotel in June of last year.

Pointed out Pangilinan, who was visibly angry at the mysterious actions by FIBA, “This is really unfair not only to the national team but also to the country which has been the victim of this ongoing debate by the SBP and BAP. It is not right. It is not fair and I don’t think it’s just.”

The current row puts in jeopardy the Powerade National Team’s participation in the FIBA Asia Men’s Championship in Tianjin, China, from August 6 to 16 as well as the Philippines’ standing with FIBA.

Pangilinan also noted that despite the Philippines’ recent performance in international competitions and its mauling of its Asian neighbors, the country remains ranked at #63 in the world (India is at #46, Hong Kong at #53, and Malaysia at #61).

“Unless FIBA tells us what is the reason for this meeting, our stand is no, we will not attend,” said Pangilinan with the rest of the assembled SBP officials nodding in agreement.

“We should have a sense of pride as Filipinos.”

As the question and answer portion with the assembled media was about to wrap up, veteran sports writer and broadcaster Ronnie Nathanielzs wondered aloud how Graham Lim was allowed to head a sports body (he is supposedly the Secretary General of the BAP and one that isn’t even recognized ) when he was declared by the Philippine justice system as someone who is not a Filipino.

“Para sa bayan ‘to,” reminded Pangilinan of SBP’s efforts that span grassroots development, coaches and officials’ training to strengthening the national team. “Para sa bayan.”

After the presscon, all the sportswriters gathered around and shared some conversation with Noli Eala and Mikee Romero. It was pretty obvious that we were all not happy with the situation. Romero related how he could feel MVP's anger. If you ask me, the other visibly angry one was Joaqui Trillo who kept shaking his head all throughout. I've had long long conversations with Mr. Trillo about a number of things and he said that this one really outraged him.

In the table in front of me were Jun Capistrano, Bernie Atienza, and Moying Martelino. Said Mr. Atienza, "Go give them a piece of your mind, Rick."

I sought the advice of my editor Jun Lomibao and good friend Joey Villar of Philippine Star who both advised me to proceed with caution on this delicate matter. This is just the first salvo.

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