FIL-SHAMS CITIZENSHIP MUST FIRST BE REVOKED

Manila, August 9, 2003 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran And Jose Aravilla  - The deportation proceedings for the five Fil-foreign players found by two Senate committees to have fake documents in trying to establish their Filipino roots will have to wait until such time that local courts revoked their Filipino citizenship.

Bureau of Immigration (BI) commissioner Andrea Domingo said legal actions should be filed before the courts against the five ‘Fil-Shams’ playing in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), seeking revocation of their granted Filipino citizenship before they can act on their deportation case.

"Until such time that their citizenship is questioned and subsequently revoked, we cannot institute summary deportation proceedings against them (Fil-Ams)," said Domingo in a statement.

The Senate Committee on Games and Sports headed by Sen. Robert Barbers recommended summary deportation against Asi Taulava, Rudy Hatfield, Andy Seigle, Jon Ordonio, and Davonn Harp for allegedly submitting fake documents in claiming Philippine citizenship.

This developed as Alaska Milk has taken the lead in the issue as it put Ordonio on the reserve list until his case is resolved.

But whether the other PBA ballclubs involved in the case would follow suit remains a big question mark.

"We don’t want to besmirch his (Ordonio’s) reputation. He’s a fine young man and the leader of the team but we think the better thing to do is to take the conservative approach," Alaska Milk team owner Wilfred Uytengsu said.

The Alaska organization has set the pace in the issue but the other teams were still taking a wait-and-see attitude and keeping their "Fil-shams" away from the media.

Coaches Ariel Vanguardia of Talk n Text and Chot Reyes of Coca-Cola said they didn’t receive orders from their management to withhold Asi Taulava and Rudy Hatfield from their respective lineups. The two players still practiced with their teams yesterday and are set to see action as the Phone Pals and the Tigers play the FedEx Express and the Magnolia-Jilin Yi Qi squad, respectively, today.

But Uytengsu hoped the league takes the cue to give the Senate due respect. "I hope the other teams also take the conservative approach to give the Senate the respect it deserves," he said.

Likewise, PBA commissioner Noli Eala also lauded the Senate committee efforts and said the report merits a pro-active position from the league.

"We welcomed the Senate report and it’s about time we resolved this once and for all. We certainly lauded the efforts by the Senate but then again, the PBA respects the rights of everybody and will give them their day in court," said Eala.

On Alaska’s move to freeze Ordonio, Eala said: "It’s their (the Alaska management’s) prerogative on how they react to the Senate report. But we have yet to make an official order on this."

Further investigation was also recommended for Mick Pennisi, Dorian Peña, and Alex Crisano by the same Senate body.

The Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws headed by Sen. Ed Angara likewise found the five players with fraudulent documents and recommended their summary deportation.

Lawyer Ronaldo Ledesma of the BI board of special inquiry suggested that the Office of the Solicitor General could represent the government in seeking the revocation of the players’ Filipino citizenship before the Supreme Court.

Domingo, however, said they would ask the Senate for a copy of its report and pieces of evidence presented during the hearing for its future reference and for study by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

It was the DOJ that earlier certified the Filipino lineage of the five players paving the way for the granting of Philippine citizenship to them by the local courts.

The certifications were issued during the time of former DOJ Sec. Hernando Perez amid controversies that they were not Filipinos as ruled by the previous administration.

The Senate announced the verdict Thursday following the completion of a thorough probe that took nine months and sent the investigators to far-flung provinces in search of the pieces of evidence.

Three of the five players — Taulava, Hatfield and Seigle — even donned the national tri-colors in the Asian Games and won championships in the Philippine Basketball Association while posing as legitimate Filipinos.

In fact, Taulava is even the leading candidate for the MVP derby in the current PBA season.

In the 12-page report signed by all but three of the 20 senators, the two Senate committees also ordered investigations on government officials and personnel involved in the processing of the players’ documents required to grant them Philippine citizenship.

Named in the report were Quezon City assistant city registrar Asuncion Mendoza, San Jose, Northern Samar municipal civil registrar Yuri del Valle Sr. and San Antonio, Nueva Ecija municipal civil registrar Luz Austria.

The BI was also asked to investigate BI hearing officers who heard the application for recognition of Philippine citizenship of the players and the Office of the Ombudsman tasked to investigate not only government officials but also player agents or managers to determine if they are criminally liable in the case.

Uytengsu said they made the move as they’re also mindful of the "PBA policy which states that if you have an ineligible player, you have to pay half-million pesos in fine per game." The vocal Alaska top bossman was referring to the rule crafted during the time of commissioner Jun Bernardino and involving the same Fil-Ams investigated by the Senate. Tanduay received a hefty fine on the case of Sonny Alvarado.

Eala cleared it is not in effect in this case. "I have discussed this unofficially with some members of the board. But officially, we have no such stance yet," he said.

Actually, the PBA has yet to receive the Senate report. "We have requested them to expedite providing us a copy so that we can study, discuss and immediately act on it," he said.

The Aces virtually made it to the Samsung PBA Invitational Cup semifinals as they repulsed the Cebuana Lhuillier-RP team, 87-82, last night at the Astrodome.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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