The perfect Christmas gift

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson -
It didn’t take long for Sen. Jinggoy Estrada to realize that to find a final solution to the problem of Philippine basketball, a big sacrifice had to be made.

At first, Estrada stood firmly on the position of preserving the identity of the 70-year-old Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP), the organization for which he was appointed president in place of former Sen. Joey Lina last month.

But when Estrada found out about the terms of the Tokyo accord signed last August, he saw the writing on the wall. He knew it was time for the BAP to die a natural death.

"We have no choice," said Estrada. "We have to abide by the terms of the Tokyo communiqué. We will dissolve the BAP and Pilipinas Basketball (PB) for the Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas (SBP) to be recognized by the POC (Philippine Olympic Committee) and FIBA (Federation Internationale de Basketball)."

Estrada made his declaration via a speaker phone as he was interviewed by sportswriters at the Philippine Long Distance Tel. Co. (PLDT) board room on the seventh floor of the Don Ramon Cojuangco Building in Makati last Dec. 23.

The night before, Estrada met with PLDT chairman Manny Pangilinan and PLDT executives Ricky Vargas and Al Panlilio at the Peking Garden restaurant in Hong Kong to shake hands on a new partnership for the sport that millions of Filipinos love with a passion.

Estrada was in a taxi cab in Hong Kong when he answered the call of the sportswriters on his cell phone. It was about 2 p.m. and he was hours away from taking a flight back to Manila.

Estrada purposely went to Hong Kong to confer with Pangilinan on how to resolve the leadership impasse in Philippine basketball. The impasse put a damper on negotiations to lift the country’s suspension by FIBA. 

In Tokyo, officials of the BAP, PB and POC came to terms on an accord that was acceptable to FIBA. The key terms were to constitute a three-man panel to coordinate the process leading to the lifting of the suspension, to dissolve the BAP and PB, to accredit the SBP as a National Sports Association (NSA) member of the POC General Assembly, to convene a national congress and finally, to elect the officers and operationalize the unified organization. A deadline of Sept. 30 was initially set to complete the process but it was later moved to Oct. 10 until postponed indefinitely because of the impasse.

When Lina resigned as BAP president and Estrada took over, the process of accrediting the SBP screeched to a halt. Lina was an original member of the three-man panel with Pangilinan and Bernie Atienza as PB president, representing the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) as St. Benilde athletic director. 

Lina’s resignation created a vacancy in the panel. Atienza also quit as PB president and lost his authority to remain a member of the panel. Pangilinan was, all of a sudden, by his lonesome. 

Last Dec. 1, Pangilinan and Estrada met each other as ninongs during the wedding of Talk ‘N’ Text player Don Allado and actress Maricar de Mesa in Quezon City. They weren’t able to talk about the basketball problem as Estrada skipped the evening reception because of a commitment to host a dinner for San Juan Vice Mayor Philip Cezar. But they exchanged cell phone numbers and promised to give each other a call so they could sit down and resolve the problem.

Panlilio, a PLDT executive based in Hong Kong, was instrumental in getting Pangilinan and Estrada together for a meeting. Panlilio and Estrada were Ateneo classmates and boyhood friends. They used to play basketball as kids and spent time in each other’s homes growing up. 

Who was better in basketball? "Al was taller than me but I was better in dribbling the ball," said Estrada diplomatically.

Estrada and his wife Presy arrived in Hong Kong last Dec. 22. Panlilio met them at the Hong Kong airport then they had lunch to discuss preliminarily what had to be done to end the impasse. Early that evening, Estrada and Pangilinan met for close to four hours over dinner and when they parted, shook hands to confirm their newly-formed partnership. They agreed that Estrada would be SBP chairman and Pangilinan, the president with Vargas as vice-chairman, Panlilio as executive director and Lito Alvarez as treasurer.

It is still to be confirmed if Panlilio would accept the full-time job as executive director because of his work in PLDT. 

"This is about making the sacrifice to unite Philippine basketball," said Estrada. "We are doing this to clear the way for the Philippines to compete internationally once again. We are moving forward. We will ask the POC to recognize the SBP and formally request FIBA to lift our suspension."

Pangilinan said all credit goes to Estrada for his act of statesmanship in agreeing to abide by the Tokyo accord and supporting the SBP. But credit must also go to Pangilinan for his leadership, dedication and commitment to finish the job that was started in Tokyo.

The partnership was the perfect Christmas gift to all basketball-loving Filipinos.










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