MANILA, February 2, 2005 
(MANILA) FROM THE NEWSROOM By Jimbo Owen B. Gulle -  Overpowering the PBA

At 6-foot-10 and 250-plus pounds, he’s practically immovable on the basketball court. In the courts of law, he’s been just as steadfast—with the help of his bosses at Talk ‘N Text.

He’s the reason why the Philippine Basketball Association, in particular Commissioner Noli Eala, is in such a quandary these days: They are fighting a player who is arguably the most popular in the league, backed by a team owner who is probably the richest, if not the most influential, among his peers in the play-for-pay loop.

What’s worse for the PBA, the courts don’t seem to cooperate with the pro league and the government agencies that want Taulava deported because of his dubious Filipino roots.

When Judge Rogelio Pizarro of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court’s Branch 22 recently granted Asi an injunction order to play again in the ongoing Philippine Cup finals, it negated the PBA’s own decision to suspend the half-Tongan, in line with the Department of Justice’s recent ruling that Taulava is not a Filipino—and thus should be expelled, not just from the league but from the country.

Many PBA observers speculate that the favorable court decisions Taulava and his lawyers have received—including the TRO that prevented his deportation by the Bureau of Immigration—are due to the efforts of Manny Pangilinan, the multimillionaire chief of telecom giant PLDT, which owns the Talk ‘N Text PBA franchise.

It is understandable why Pangilinan or anyone among Talk ‘N Text’s management would do anything within their power to keep Taulava here in the country, and not just for the sake of the player fulfilling his hefty basketball contract.

For one, Asi is among a handful of PBA stars that have single-name recall to the common Filipino, basketball fan or not. He has proved to be a charismatic pitchman for the cell-phone company he plays for and for the other products he endorses. Above all, his tough-guy, workmanlike behavior on the hardwood has endeared him to local hoops fanatics, ever since his days in the Philippine Basketball League as its main attraction. Losing a standard-bearer like Asi would certainly be a blow to any company trying to stay in the public consciousness.

Actually, the dilemma that is Taulava would have been solved years ago had anyone bothered to check on his roots while he was still in the PBL. I remember hearing a story once from a coach—I’m not sure of the tactician’s identity, unfortunately—about how Asi had asked him, while they were on a road game in Tacloban City, where Samar province was and how he could get there. Taulava then went on to tell the coach that he had relatives in the province—which, we know by now, is where Asi’s mom supposedly was born. Regrettably, no one could corroborate the coach’s story, at least among my sources.

The PBA and Noli Eala, meanwhile, are trying their hardest to prove that no one player or team is above the league’s laws, not even a superstar like Asi or a mega-firm like PLDT. Those who have been urging Eala to let Taulava play, however, are definitely pushing the right buttons—they are digging up things in the past of the lawyer and former sportscaster that were enough to make him say: “I will not allow myself to be coerced. I’m here for the interest of the league.”

Indeed, Eala is laboring through perhaps the most turbulent period in the history of the PBA. It was not long ago that the issue of drug abuse among players hit the league, while the specter of the so-called Fil-Shams still looms up to this day. The only power the young commissioner has to combat problems like these is the right to apply the league’s laws to its players and teams—and even that isn’t working anymore, if you ask Taulava and Talk ‘N Text. In essence, the player and the team have overpowered the league.

With powerful people, a rich company and the law behind him, don’t expect Asi “The Rock” to be moving anywhere anytime soon.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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