The Sorsogon mystery

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

The Philippine National Police (PNP) report absolving former UST coach Aldin Ayo of committing any violation against IATF guidelines in recently hosting 17 Growling Tiger varsity basketball players in Sorsogon raises a lot of questions that shouldn’t be left unanswered. Sorsogon Gov. Francis Escudero has issued a certification attesting to the PNP’s findings that Ayo isn’t liable “for violation of any health protocol.”

The premise is Ayo invited the 17 players to go to Sorsogon for personal development farm training. This was the reason justifying the movement of individuals, some of whom were less than 21, during the pandemic despite travel restrictions by the IATF. “Being engaged in agricultural activity, IATF resolutions allow travel for the players concerned,” the report said. “In his farm, they proceeded with farm engagement and training for which he gave the players/trainees some allowances aside from their free boarding lodging as well as free meals. They learned important lessons from agricultural business to livelihood programs and they planted trees in their mahogany farm. When not engaged in farm work and training and while waiting for the harvest time of palay at his riceland, the players were allowed to make use of a basketball court which is enclosed inside the living room of his house where the players had individual training and not team practice.”

A picture has surfaced in social media showing several UST players on a basketball court in Sorsogon doing drills with cones. The PNP finding is the players did not perform supervised basketball training. Was this picture doctored to show players on a non-existent court? Were the cones photo-shopped into the picture? Since the lockdown, the IATF has not allowed non-pro athletes to train in batches.

Did the PNP interview the 17 players who were in Sorsogon? Since the leak of the so-called Sorsogon bubble, seven Tiger players have left the team and enrolled elsewhere. Ayo himself resigned. If there was nothing wrong in what happened in Sorsogon, why did he resign? Why did the UST athletic director Fr. Jannel Abogado resign? Within about a month, UST had a change of three athletic directors. The latest to land the job is Fr. Rodel Cansancio. If nothing was wrong in Sorsogon, why the resignations?

UST submitted a report on the Sorsogon incident to the UAAP and on the basis of the findings, the UAAP suspended Ayo indefinitely. Not for a year or two but indefinitely, indicating a grievous offense. But with the PNP report, UST has made a sudden turnaround and is appealing to the UAAP to reconsider the suspension. Additionally, UST has given Ayo a vote of confidence by naming his chief lieutenants Jinino Manansala as new Tigers coach and McJour Luib as new high school coach. Both Manansala and Luib had resigned from the UST coaching staff with Ayo. The vote of confidence was a strong message that UST believes the PNP report. When Ayo resigned, a bunch of coaches applied to succeed him, including Estong Ballesteros, Chris Gavina, Potit de Vera, Ed Cordero, Gilbert Lao, Aries Dimaunahan, Chris Cantonjos, Siot Tanquingcen and even Sean Chambers. At least five of the applicants are UST alumni.

In a viber thread shared by former Tiger players quoting Ayo, there was no mention of farm training, only basketball training. “Ulitin ko kelangan natin mag practice!” said Ayo in the thread. “Kelangan natin mag prepare! Kasi dyan lang tayo mananalo. Kung nde tayo magpapractice or magprepare nde tayo mananalo. Gusto ko manalo. Si Boss Jimmy (Lim) gustong gusto manalo. We really have to practice the soonest. If we’re not able to practice or prepare well bcoz some players and parents are not reasonable and committed, I’m going to take a sabbatical leave this coming UAAP Season 83.”

GAB chairman Baham Mitra, who is involved with the IATF-sanctioned JAO group with PSC and DOH, said the UST case is now with the DOJ for review. Is Ayo off the hook? As a former seminarian, surely he is a man of his word. And UST as a pontifical university isn’t about to tarnish its image of integrity to back up a report that may be questionable. But this turn of events is disturbing. Is this a whitewash? Is this a joke? If nothing was done wrong, why the resignations, why the suspension? Questions, questions, questions.

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