MANILA,  November 1, 2004 (STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Noli Eala said the other day the so-called Fil-Shams are not addressing the basic issue of whether or not they are legitimate Filipino citizens by seeking an injunction or temporary restraining order staying possible arrest and deportation.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently found six Fil-foreigners guilty of falsifying documents to obtain Filipino citizenship and eligibility to play in the PBA as locals.

Based on the DOJ findings, Eala suspended the six cagers as authorized by the PBA Board of Governors.

Of the six, Asi Taulava was not cited for arrest and deportation because he had obtained an injunction last year. But Eala suspended Taulava anyway on the basis of the DOJ findings.

Taking Taulavaís cue, the five others went to court and sought an injunction. Eala, however, said this legal action only delays their arrest and deportation.

"I advise those who are aggrieved to go to court and not just get an injunction," said Eala, a lawyer. "An injunction only postpones the inevitable. It does not contest the DOJís findings. If a player insists he is innocent, he should file for declaratory relief where he makes a declaration of his Filipino heritage or a petition for certiorari where he directly disputes the DOJís findings with the view to establish the facts."

The PBA Board had previously agreed to ban Fil-foreigners found to be fakes by the DOJ regardless of whether they appeal their case and are upheld. The purpose of the agreement was to put a closure to the nagging Fil-Sham issue.

But Eala left the door open for a compromise, assuming the Board approves.

"If a player is able to establish his rightful claim to Filipino citizenship. proves the DOJís findings to be wrong and is reconfirmed by the DOJ as a Filipino citizen, Iím sure the Board will be open to discuss a possible reinstatement," said Eala. "This will be for the Board to decide. But the first step should be for the player to set the record straight. The DOJ findings must be disproved. Only then can the PBA Board even consider taking him back."Eala said the key is to dispute the DOJís findings which the PBA uses as basis to recognize a Fil-foreigner as a local.

Regarding DOJ secretary Raul Gonzalezí threat to file a case of obstruction of justice against Eala, the Commissioner said he abides by the law and will never block its enforcement.

Gonzalez asked Eala to submit a list of suspected Fil-Shams still playing in the league. Eala said he is not in a position to make the list.

"The Secretary was told by two separate sources that there are two Fil-Shams not in the DOJ list," said Eala. "I never told him that. So if the Secretary wants to find out who they are, he should just ask his sources, not me. The PBA Board and I accept Fil-foreigners as local players if their Filipino citizenships are confirmed by the DOJ. I have no basis to doubt the DOJís confirmation."

What the DOJ is asking of Eala is an impossibility because it wants the Commissioner to express doubts on certifications of Filipino citizenship issued by the government agency. Eala said he is not in a position to pass judgment on the matter.

Eala added that perhaps the DOJ should investigate its ranks because functionaries confirmed the Filipino citizenships of the six so-called Fil-Shams before formalizing their applications to play in the PBA as locals.

Eala has been hauled to court by Taulavaís lawyers and cross-examined. He said the PBA suspended Taulava because of the DOJís findings detailed in its 50-page report not the three-page resolution which spared the Talk Ní Text center of arrest and deportation due to his existing injunction.

Aside from Taulava, the other so-called Fil-Shams are Rudy Hatfield, Jon Ordonio, DaVonn Harp, Mick Pennisi and Alex Crisano. The six insist they are legitimate Fil-foreigners with a Filipino parent.

To prevent their deportation, the six went to court for an injunction. Eala explained that an injunction will only delay their deportation and will not cause their reinstatement as PBA players because a temporary restraining order does not address the fundamental issue of proving Filipino citizenship.

The DOJ investigated eight Fil-foreigners on suspicion they forged documents to become Filipino citizens. Cleared from any wrong-doing were Andy Seigle and Dorian Pena. The other six were found to be guilty and endorsed to the Bureau of Immigration for arrest and deportation.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved