The Gilas Pilipinas Files: Congress’ assist to Gilas Pilipinas
by rick olivares
During the send-off for the Philippine Men’s Basketball National Team at the Hotel Novotel in Cubao, Quezon City yesterday, one of the speakers was Congressman Roberto “Robbie” Puno (Antipolo City, District 1) who talked about how pleased he and his House colleagues were of being able to help Gilas Pilipinas.
It was Puno’s House Bills (along with its Senate counterpart) that paved the way for the naturalization of Marcus Douthit and later Andray Blatche and their subsequent participation in the national squad.
“I read in the newspaper one day that Noli Eala who at that time was the Executive Director of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, was planning on naturalizing a foreigner to take advantage of the FIBA rules (Book Three: Chapter One Eligibility and National Status of Players) that allowed a foreigner to help the national team,” recounted Puno in a conversation with Philstar. “Noli was my classmate in college in Ateneo and we were also teammates in our intramurals basketball teams. And I presented him with a proposal to sponsor the naturalization candidate.”
However, getting the bill passed in the House of Representatives wasn’t going to be easy. It required a full court press from the very start.
Prior to the bill introduced by Puno, there were 34 naturalization bills filled in Congress with only eight had ever succeeded. “Of the eight,” noted the Antipolo City representative, "not one passed in the Congress in which it was first filed. Some bills take seven, eight Congresses before they are passed. So we did not have the luxury of time considering that the first two candidates for naturalization (CJ Giles and Jamaal Sampson) did not work out."
"With Douthit and Blatche we were able to get these filed into law in the same Congress in which it was first introduced."
"It starts with the filing of the naturalization bill then it goes to the Committee on Justice,” Puno talked of the long process of the naturalization bills. "I had to talk to my colleagues to join in and move to approve this bill. Our friend was Jun Tupas (Iloilo, District V) who at that time was the Chairman on the Committee of Justice. He was very helpful. I asked Yeng Guiao (Pampanga, District 1) to be a co-author on the Andray Blatche Bill. Notably, Rudy Fariñas (Ilocos Norte, District 1) was in the committee and he was the one who moved on the first bill that I did. Congressman Rodel Batocabe (Ako Bicol Party-list) and Elpidio F. Barzaga Jr. (Cavite, District 4) were also helpful."
When the bill was first brought to plenary, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte initially expressed his apprehension to the move.
“Speaker Sonny was concerned about naturalization bills that sell our nation,” related Puno. At the time, Puno sponsored two naturalization bills — one for Douthit, and another for a Zheng Xiaojing (a 6’3” Chinese girl for the women’s national team. “He asked why was I sponsoring two. He said let’s do one first and try it out. The Speaker just needed to be convinced of the veracity of this and that it was a need and not a want and it was in accordance with FIBA rules. After that, he was the most supportive."
House Bill No. 2307 "An Act Granting Citizenship to Marcus Eugene Douthit” known as Republic Act No. 10148 was passed into law on July 26, 2010 while House Bill 4084 “An Act Granting Citizenship to Andray Blatche (Republic Act No. 10636) was signed on July 22, 2013.
Douthit represented the country from 2010-15 while Blatche began suiting up in 2014.
"It was nice to have Congress take a positive role in something like this” reflected Puno. "This is something that Congress can claim to having a concrete contribution to Philippine basketball with the naturalization first of Marcus Douthit and then Andray Blatche. Aside from the laws that help our countrymen, these are wonderful moments for Congress."