Ex-PBA ref suggests ways to improve

Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2012 - 12:00am

LOS ANGELES – After over 20 years of officiating, former PBA referee and player Benjie Chua said recently Asia’s first play-for-pay league could raise its standards even higher if the arbiters in black sneakers are given proper training, better financial terms and a firm schedule of game assignments.

Chua, 58, played a year for Ateneo under coach Baby Dalupan and three seasons with UE under coach Pilo Pumaren in the 1970s before suiting up for Solid Mills in the MICAA and U-Tex in the PBA. An accounting graduate, he logged two seasons in the pros in 1980-81, worked at Security Bank and Bank of Commerce and joined the PBA referees’ corps in the last conference of 1989. 

In 2001, he left for the US to check in at the NBA referees camp under supervisor of officials Ed Rush. Chua survived three weeks of workouts then was told to brush up on his basics and mechanics. He returned to Manila, worked as a PBA referee again and went back to the US for another try at an NBA job. Chua said it’s not enough to be competent to land an NBA contract – the more important factor is connections. He was cut a second time. Chua decided to stay in the US with his family. He worked two years in the ABA (American Basketball Association), attended tryouts for the NBDL and today, officiates in pro-am, recreational and Fil-Am leagues when not on duty as a courier for a Filipino company. Chua and his wife Mila live in a Los Angeles suburb. Their son Ramon, 30, is a part-time referee and full-time paymaster at Cast and Crew. He has two children Matthew, 3, and Jacob, 1, with wife Shirley, front desk officer of Hilton Hotel Pasadena. Their daughter Mary Mae, 29, is assistant comptroller of Premier Financing and is expecting her first child with husband Alexander Rkyklov.

“No regrets,” said Chua. “I’m lucky to be one of only a few former PBA players who became referees with Tito Varela and Ernie de Leon. Being a referee isn’t easy. You can’t join social gatherings with friends who are connected with teams. Your work is always being scrutinized. As a referee, you call what you see and see what you call. The speculation that there is some kind of game-fixing involving referees has no basis. It will take a series of wrong calls to change the outcome of the game. It will be obvious so you can’t hide it.”

Chua was not spared sanction for allegedly sub-standard officiating when he worked a game between Sta. Lucia Realty and Red Bull in 2001, the night before he left for his first NBA tryout in Los Angeles. When he went back to Manila, Chua was suspended two months. But he was eventually reinstated. “I think I was vindicated,” said Chua. “I was accused of a bad call but in the replay, it showed another referee made that call. I was also accused of soliciting T-shirts from teams to give as “pasalubongs” for my US trip but what was wrong? I asked from all teams not just one or two so where was the favoritism? But I think some team owners didn’t like the idea of a referees union which I proposed. I was still able to work as a PBA referee until I migrated in 2002.”

Chua hasn’t been back to Manila since leaving in 2002 but hopes to visit late next year. “My dream is to be able to help the PBA become even more successful from the referees’ standpoint,” said Chua. “My suggestions are to give better training to referees, to improve their financial packages for self-respect and to do away with the ‘bunot’ system. Wrong or no calls are the result of poor positioning so training must focus on that. I also advise to review tape immediately after a game, not the morning after, so the sequences are still fresh in the minds of everyone. It will take sacrifice and late nights but that’s the only way to prove your professionalism.”

Chua said referees should be compensated for their work properly. “It’s not right that players or league officials ride in nice cars and referees take the bus to and from the stadium,” he said. “In the NBA, rookie referees earn over $10,000 a month which is very generous. I also don’t agree with the ‘bunot’ system because it makes you anxious and takes away the opportunity to do work elsewhere if you’re not picked. In the NBA, referees are given their game assignments ahead of time so they can prepare and focus. That should be the case in the PBA.”

Chua said NBA referee Joe Borgia was the evaluator in his two tryouts. “I still have my NBA referees’ jersey as a remembrance of the tryouts.” He said. “I worked two years in the ABA and still reached Dennis Rodman. The pay in the ABA was $75 to $175 a game depending on the schedule. In trying out for the NBDL, I paid $500 for three days in a Long Beach camp but I still wasn’t taken in 2010 even if I was invited by the NBA. I also tried out for the NCAA Division I. I’m still in shape, I do weekend games in West Covina but I choose only organized leagues. I watch the NBA on TV and PBA on philstar.com live streaming. I miss working in the PBA. I miss my friends back home. Maybe someday, there will be a Filipino referee in the NBA.”

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