RP five’s battlecry Never again!
- Joaquin M. Henson () - September 9, 2001 - 12:00am
Only twice has the Philippines not captured the gold medal in basketball at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games as the nationals settled for the silver after losing to Malaysia in 1979 and 1989.

The memory of the 1989 loss still lingers. In the SEA Games, never mind if the Philippines loses in other sports – but not in basketball which Filipinos love with a passion.

At the 15th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, host Malaysia trounced the Philippines, 107-99, to wrest the crown. The defeat was difficult to live down. Coach Derick Pumaren was aghast as Malaysia raced to a 57-44 halftime lead, stretched the gap to 23 at 87-64, and held on to score the upset. Among Pumaren’s players were Jun Limpot, Vergel Meneses, Gerry Esplana, Jun Reyes, Gido Babilonia, Larry Villanil, Apet Jao, and Carlito Mejos. There were tears and gnashing of teeth on that fateful day.

In the loss to Malaysia, Reyes hit 25 points and Babilonia, 20. But their efforts went for naught as seven Malaysians, led by Tan Kim Chee, scored in twin digits to frustrate Pumaren. Malaysia was trained by Joby Wright, a former National Basketball Association (NBA) guard and a Bobby Knight assistant at Indiana University, for the tournament.

Since the dethronement, the Philippines has won the next five SEA Games basketball tournaments to establish a dynasty that will not easily be dismantled.

In 1991, the Philippines was back on the SEA Games basketball throne as coach Francis Rodriguez piloted the national team to the top before an adoring homecrowd. His players included Limpot, Meneses, Marlou Aquino, Bong Ravena, Vic Pablo, Nonoy Chuatico, Macky de Joya, Johnny Abarrientos, Boyet Fernandez, and Jolly Escobar.

In 1993, coach Rogelio (Tembong) Melencio made it two in a row for the Philippines at the 17th conclave in Singapore. His players included Poch Juinio, Rodney Santos, Michael Orquillas, Peter Naron, Cris Bade, Long David, Dale Singson, Siot Tanquingcen, Gilbert Castillo and Eric Gascon.

In 1995, coach Joe Lipa steered the Philippines to another gold medal in basketball at the 18th SEA Games in Chiang Mai. Back on the squad were Aquino, Orquillas, and Santos. Others include Jason Webb, Jomer Rubi, Don Camaso, Bal and Long David, and Mar Morelos.

In 1997, the Philippines lost a 76-72 decision to Malaysia in the run-up to the finals at the 19th staging of the competitions in Jakarta. But it seemed like coach Dong Vergeire deliberately pulled his punches to avoid a title showdown with host Indonesia. Malaysia’s "win" eliminated Indonesia from the finals. The Philippines had earlier beaten Indonesia, 85-74, and Thailand, 70-64.

Vergeire made sure there would be no accident in the rematch as the Philippines crushed Malaysia, 96-86, in the championship game. Vergeire’s players included Danny Ildefonso, Ato Morano, Chris Cantonjos, Rubi, Rommel Adducul, Gerard Francisco, Ralph Rivera, Dino Manuel, Richard Melencio, and Norman Gonzales.

In 1999, Adducul returned to power the Philippines to a fifth straight SEA Games gold medal in Brunei. Coach Louie Alas’ nationals trounced Thailand, 89-69, to clinch the title. Among his mainstays were Gilbert Demape, Ernesto Billiones, Morano, Peter Martin, Ruben del Rosa, Wynne Arboleda, and Kerby Raymundo.

The Philippine cagers almost didn’t make it to Kuala Lumpur for the 21st SEA Games. A ban on the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) imposed by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) was lifted only a week ago to clear the way for the national team to participate in Kuala Lumpur. The ban had earlier disqualified the Philippines from competing at the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Championships in Shanghai.

Adducul is back on the national team and shooting for his third SEA Games gold medal. Kuala Lumpur was the site of the Philippines’ last debacle in basketball at the SEA Games in 1989 and coach Boysie Zamar is determined to exact a payback with a vengeance.

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