Sta. Lucia Realty back in the game
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2019 - 12:00am

“We did not intend to be in the MPBL right now,” Pasig Sta. Lucia Realtors team manager Buddy Encarnado reveals. “But now that we’re here, we’re here for the long term, out of love for basketball.”

Sta.Lucia Realty made its mark in the old Philippine Amateur Basketball League (PABL) in the late 1980’s, helping discover and develop some of the greatest names in the game for local and international club competitions. Their rosters included Alvin Patrimonio, Ronnie Magsanoc, Eric Altamirano, Peter Naron, Nelson Asaytono, and dozens of others. In 1992, the company acquired the PBA franchise of Great Taste Coffee and joined the league the following season. Owner Excy Robles had always been a huge basketball fan, and Encarnado has always had a great nose for management and discovering talent.

“We are not a big company, says Encarnado. “But when we give our commitment, we stick to it. And I can make decisions because I speak on behalf of my team owner. We honor our contracts, and we give our players a career. And we give the teams of those big corporations credibility by making sure we are competitive.”

In the PBA, Encarnado was the voice of logic, reason and fair play. He spoke his mind, and fought for what was right. He successfully moved to lower the players’ maximum salary, and policed against fake Fil-Am players. Buddy also went to bat for players who had been treated unfairly by their mother teams. Until its departure from the PBA in 2010, the Realtors had helped develop legends like Marlou Aquino, Kenneth Duremdes, Dennis Espino, Jun Limpot, Alex Cabagnot, Kelly Williams, Boyet Fernandez, and others. In 2006, Fernandez was promoted to head coach, and led the Realtors to their second and last championship on his first try, the All-Filipino Cup.

Recently, Encarnado was approached by someone claiming to be the new owner of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League’s Pasig franchise. He begged Encarnado to manage the team. Buddy agreed, but started to suspect something was amiss when he was being asked to pay for their food every time they met. Encarnado was also asked to fly to General Santos City with two of the owner’s employees to sign the contract when he got there. In General Santos, Encarnado was shocked when he was being asked to pay P25 million for a new franchise fee, and back pay owed the previous season’s players. Neither he nor the team owner’s staff knew anything about it.

“That’s the problem with the MPBL now, a lot of unscrupulous small-time crooks have supposedly been buying franchises, then use them to get sponsors, not pay the players, and not even pay MPBL,” the veteran manager and Pasig native explains.

Encarnado argued that since Pasig was an existing franchise, he shouldn’t have to pay the fee. And since the back salaries were owed by the previous owner, he shouldn’t have to pay them, either. MPBL founder, Sen. Manny Pacquiao agreed with him. Instead, Buddy offered to take over the franchise. They shook hands, and the deal was consummated. His former players MPBL commissioner Duremdes and deputy Zaldy Realubit were witnesses.

“I said I’ve been in basketball for the last 36 years. Forget about the owner. I will find you a new owner for the Pasig team,” he said. “I had a logo made. I removed the “Pirates”; they had been involved in shenanigans. I will do a lot of hard work here, because they tarnished the name of Pasig. This time it is boss Excy of Santolan, Pasig and Buddy Encarnado of Sumilang, Pasig. We will never go into basketball just to make money.”

Robles saw the advertising and PR value of having the team on television and live streaming, and the continuity it provided for all the good will Sta. Lucia had previously built. Now, they had to put together a team, and fast, with PBA veteran Bong dela Cruz as head coach. They quickly acquired Jeric Teng, Josan Nimes and Kiko Adriano, and brought Nic Belasco out of retirement. The new, two-week old Realtors will make their debut this week.

More importantly, the fledgling MPBL will now have a calm, experienced, principled, stabilizing influence in Robles and Encarnado, at a time when the league needs it the most.

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