JANUARY 18, 2007
(MALAYA) BY NOLI CORTEZ - SLOWLY but surely, the noose is tightening around the beleaguered Basketball Association of the Philippines.

A day after BAP director and spokesman Fritz Gaston abandoned the BAP and announced he would support unification efforts being spearheaded by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, a delegation from the SBP leaves today for Switzerland to meet with officials of the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA.

Making up the delegation are business mogul Manny V. Pangilinan, former BAP president Jinggoy Estrada, PBA Chairman Ricky Vargas and PBA Commissioner Noli Eala.

"Our mission there is to update the FIBA on the ongoing process in the unification of basketball in the country, which, in turn, is part of the Tokyo communiqué," Vargas said in an interview yesterday.

The meeting, set on Jan. 19 and 21, is considered crucial in the SBP’s bid to convince the FIBA to withdraw its recognition of the BAP as the official basketball body in the country.

Gaston abandoned the BAP last Tuesday, saying: "The BAP cannot operate in a vacuum. It cannot be the governing body over no one. It cannot continue to be like the "King with no subjects."

Meanwhile, a reliable source yesterday claimed BAP chairman Michelle Lhuillier and Visayas official Raul ‘Yayoy’ Alcoseba are reportedly set to follow in Gaston’s footsteps.

The source said Lhuillier and Alcoseba are just waiting for the right time to make their moves but have already signified their intentions by not attending a BAP meeting the other day. The meeting did not push through due to a lack of quorum.

Vargas did not confirm or deny this, but said it is "heartening" to learn some of the BAP personalities are starting to heed the unification call.

"We’re elated with Fritz (Gaston), he finally showed support for the unification efforts," said Vargas.

"We’re thankful and also hopeful the others will take the same stance for us to have a unified Philippine basketball," Vargas said.

Officials of the FIBA led by its president, Bob Elphinston, and secretary-general, Patrick Baumann, have agreed to meet with the SBP delegation, according to Vargas, adding Elphinston will emplane for the FIBA headquarters in Geneva direct from his home country of Australia.

"The FIBA finally gets to meet Mr. Pangilinan, Sen. Estrada and other people behind the SBP and the entire unification process," Vargas, adding communication between the two groups before was done primarily through e-mails and faxes.

"What is important is they agreed to meet us. Nakakagaan ng loob," Vargas said, adding the move is an example of how the people behind the SBP are willing to make sacrifices to see the unification process through.

"The people behind the SBP are very busy, yet are taking precious time out to reach out to the FIBA," said Vargas, who pointed out Pangilinan is busy with his numerous business transactions, Estrada is set to proceed directly to the Senate opening on Jan. 22 and the PBA, which Eala oversees, is currently in its critical stage.

Vargas refused to say it out loud, but the SBP move is also part of the process for the new group to gain at least the same recognition as the BAP, if not totally replace the association that has been the sole stumbling block in unifying RP basketball.

"You know us. We’re always hoping for the best. But whatever will transpire will transpire," Vargas said. "Kahit wala kaming control sa recognition (of the SBP by the FIBA), we’re simply hoping the outcome of our meeting will be positive."

According to the FIBA-issued Tokyo communiqué last August, a three-man panel composed of Pangilinan, the BAP and Pilipinas Basketball will oversee the formation of a new caging body that will be the country’s sole governing organization in the sport.

The PB and BAP, with Pangilinan as the third party, had initially agreed to form a new body but the BAP had since reneged on the agreement, allegedly forcing former BAP president Joey Lina to resign and then ousting Estrada last month. Officials of the BAP want the new group to retain the BAP title.

The BAP had been expelled by the POC, prompting the FIBA to suspend the country from international competitions since mid-2005.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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