JANUARY 10, 2007
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Philippine Basketball Association commissioner Noli Eala couldnít suppress his disgust and displeasure at the way the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) Executive Board kicked out Sen. Jinggoy Estrada as president without due process, showing no respect for the man it handpicked to succeed Joey Lina in a desperate effort to derail the emergence of the unified Samahang Basketbol Ng Pilipinas (SBP).

"The time for diplomacy is over," said Eala, fuming at the BAPís arrogant display of high-handedness. "Itís a declaration of war."

We can understand why Eala was so infuriated, if not exasperated. He was in Tokyo when BAP and Pilipinas Basketball (PB) representatives affixed their signatures on a joint communiquť, vowing to merge their organizations to form a unified bloc, in the presence of Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) officials last August.

Eala hailed the landmark agreement and finally, saw a glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel. The coming to terms was the first step in the process of lifting the countryís suspension by FIBA.

But since the historic signing, the BAP has had a change of heart. It now refuses to abide by the terms of the agreement. For starters, the BAP is no longer willing to be collapsed.

When Estrada announced he would support the SBP two days before Christmas, he knew his decision wouldnít sit well with the BAP hardliners. Estrada was right.

Last Saturday, the BAP Executive Board declared Estradaís position vacant. In effect, he was ousted as BAP president. The reason for his ouster was he no longer served the BAPís best interests.

Estrada said he was informed of his removal through a letter that was sent to his home. The letter was signed by several members of the BAP Executive Board, including secretary-general Graham Lim, auditor Fritz Gaston, chairman emeritus Lito Puyat and treasurer Tony Fabico. Estrada wasnít even given his day in court. He wasnít even given a chance to defend himself or plead his case.

But in an inspiring show of statesmanship, Estrada said he wonít bother to question his ouster even if lawyer Marievic Anonuevo doubted the legality of the proceeding.

"Iím not questioning the wisdom of the Executive Board," said Estrada.

"Iím still courting the BAP to join. Iím still negotiating for an equal distribution of committees (in the SBP) for the BAP and PB. Iím not closing the doors. Iím hoping the BAP will still join the SBP." Anonuevo was at the head table with Estrada, Philippine Long Distance Tel. Co. chairman Manny Pangilinan and PB president Jun-Jun Capistrano during the SBP press conference at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel the other day. She has been diligently recording the discussions of the three-man panel designated by the Tokyo communiquť to lay the groundwork for the creation of the unified basketball body (SBP), communicating with FIBA and coordinating with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in registering the SBP as a legal corporate entity.

In an interview, Anonuevo confirmed the BAP is not registered with the SEC. Its Constitution and By-Laws are mere house rules and those arenít even well-defined because theoretically, they may be changed at the drop of a hat since the BAP is not regulated.

Rhea Navarro, who used to work for the Asian Basketball Confederation office in Hongkong, said there are no records of the BAPís Constitution and By-Laws in FIBA or FIBA-Asia files.

Anonuevo said since Estrada was voted BAP president by acclamation during a national congress, it stands to reason that he may be ousted only by the majority of the same assembly, specifically on a 2/3 vote.

"There is room for doubt (on the legality of Estradaís ouster by the Executive Board)," she said.

Still, Estrada is not pushing to be reinstated because "I donít need the position." He said he attended the SBP press conference as a senator, a basketball-loving citizen and a member of the three-man panel.

Anonuevo said the BAP has not replaced Estrada as its representative in the panel (the other members are Pangilinan and Capistrano). And even if the BAP appoints a replacement, it will be too late to derail the SBPís progress. "The SBP already exists as a legal entity," said Anonuevo, adding that FIBA itself has recognized the unified body in a letter dated last Nov. 21. "The SBP may now call for a national congress and an election of officers."

Harbour Centre team owner Mikee Romero, who attended the press conference as a member of the Philippine Basketball League Board of Governors, called Estrada a statesman and a hero.

"Itís time for Lim to step up and become a hero, too," said Romero, referring to the BAP secretary-general who has been singled out as the source of the basketball discord.

Pangilinan said like Estrada, he is reaching out to the BAP but he wonít be hindered by impediments in moving the SBP forward.

"This (unification) isnít going to happen overnight," he said. "Weíve got to be patient. There are too many legacy issues and we just canít unify in one go. Weíre not out to eradicate one for another. We want to use the best people on the ground for Philippine basketball." Pangilinan was visibly irked by BAP officials who stubbornly refuse to abide by the terms of the Tokyo communiquť. "Donít they read documents,íí wondered Pangilinan. "Itís annoying. If they donít read whatís in the documents, thatís their problem. What was signed in Tokyo was a quasi-international treaty. We canít turn away from it at a whim or discard it. We should respect international treaties. It gives us a black eye if we donít. All weíre asking is for everyone to forego personal and parochial interests."

A prominent businessman and an ardent lover of sports, Pangilinan has been at the forefront of the unification effort since he agreed to head the three-man panel and become the SBP president. His only interest is to unify the countryís fragmented basketball community so that the FIBA suspension will be lifted and the national team is able to compete for international honors once again.

Despite the mess, the consolation is for as long as Pangilinan is at the SBP helm, Philippine basketball is in good hands because there is an assurance of a selfless vision, a clear direction and a sense of purpose.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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