Understanding the MPBL’s Fil-foreigner issue

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After a wildly successful inaugural season, the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) now finds itself tangled in controversy due to its ruling regarding Fil-foreigners’ participation in the fledgling league.

The issue started when MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes instructed the Mandaluyong El Tigre to choose only one of Ray Parks Jr., or Lawrence Domingo – two players he deemed as Fil-Ams – to suit up for the team. He mentioned that the MPBL has a rule that allows only one Fil-foreign player for each team. The league then proceeded to add a height limit (6’4) for Fil-foreigners.

According to Duremdes, “Kung makikita mo yung liga natin wala naman talagang mga dominant na malalaking locals, so the rationale of putting up a height limit for Fil-foreign players is to allow our local players an equal opportunity of competing against these Fil-foreign players.”

“Kasi kung papayagan natin yung malalaking Fil-foreign players, magkakaroon agad ng disadvantage sa mga local players natin. We want to look at the best interest of the league, yung magkaroon ng balance competition.”

Many players, whether active or retired, media personalities, and ordinary citizens have expressed their disappointment in the ruling, even calling it a racist act. There are some, however, that have defended the decision, echoing the league’s sentiments of protecting the homegrown players.

The league’s reasoning, or at least their choice of words, for the rule is also questionable. It implies an accepted inferiority for Filipinos compared to Fil-foreigners (or foreigners, in general), so much so that the presence of these foreigners must be limited and even their height controlled for the local players to thrive. I thought we wanted Filipinos to be world class in everything? If we claim that we are the most basketball-crazy country in the world, why can’t we produce local players that can compete against these “foreigners”? And if we currently don’t, why don’t we want to be challenged by their presence to force us to learn and improve?

The rule also contradicts our behavioral tendency to claim every bit of being Filipino we can in whomever or whatever we can, especially in the international stage. A singer from another country in an international contest has an uncle whose cousins have a parent whose grandparents lived in the Philippines? Proud to be Pinoy! A basketball player who wants to play in the Philippines was born and raised in the Philippines with a Filipino mother and Filipino citizenship has an American father? Not Pinoy!

This is not to say that the MPBL is purely in the wrong. Their intentions for the MPBL are clear: To allow lesser known Filipinos, particularly local and homegrown players, a chance to showcase their talents and maybe even reach success they’ve never dreamed of before.

“This (MPBL) is a sanctuary league for all Filipino basketball players,” Duremdes told FOXSports.ph on a phone interview. “Basketball is basketball, as long as you can still play.”

“The MPBL is providing talented players an opportunity and the exposure,” Duremdes stated. “PBA is PBA – who does not what to play there? Minsan kailangan mo lang ng opportunity na maipakita ang laro mo.”

Contrary to what many believe, the MPBL is not a professional league. At least not yet. For now, it is a semi-professional league still finding its footing in a very complicated Philippine basketball landscape. Many of its players have day-jobs and the MPBL just serves as both a recreational activity and added income. The MPBL today is basically just a glorified, supersized, barangay league. It will also remain as such until the Games and Amusements Board deems otherwise and starts to regulate the league.

Taking these things into account, it is easier to understand why the MPBL is aggressive in protecting local, homegrown players. The problem lies in their execution.

The MPBL has put forth guidelines that Fil-foreigners must comply with to be able to play in the league:

Fil-foreign players should have a two-year residency in the Philippines/or should have played college in the Philippines

At least one of their parents should be natural born citizen.

They should have a Philippines passport

At least 18 years of age

These are reasonable guidelines, but it does not really address the heart of the matter that has been haunting the league. These requirements already presume a player is a Fil-foreigner. But what qualifies a player as a local or as a Fil-foreigner in the MPBL?

“Again, titingnan natin yung papel niyan. We cannot decide right away kung wala yung mga documents. Malalaman natin doon kung at the time of his birth ba kung yung father ba niya is a naturalized already or American citizen pa at that time? Kung American citizen pa yung tatay niya at that time of his birth, he’s considered a Filipino-American,” said Duremdes.

This answer only leads to further questions. Why did this issue and these guidelines only start to appear when Ray Parks, Jr. was about to join the El Tigre? The MPBL got a boost in publicity when it was reported that Gerald Anderson, who was born to an American father, was joining the Marikina Shoemasters – why wasn’t there an outcry for regulations on Fil-foreigners then? Chester Saldua, who played for the Navotas Clutch last conference is a Fil-Am. He is also 6’5. Will he be prevented from suiting up in the MPBL again? What if noted local PBA players such as Jayson Castro, Marc Pingris, or Calvin Abueva – players whom we all recognize as local, but actually have one foreign parent each – hypothetically decide to join the MPBL? Will they be considered Fil-foreigners? Why does Ray Parks Jr., – a Filipino citizen – have to be questioned if he is Filipino? There will be more questions raised if the MPBL doesn’t put out a clear and comprehensive definition for Fil-foreigners.

You can say that this is part of the MPBL’s growing pains. In a way, they are fortunate that this issue has come to light this early in their existence. It at least gives them more time to fix the problem before the league truly breaks out.

The MPBL’s vision is commendable, and they deserve our support. Let us hope that they can resolve this matter as soon as they can and move past it on their way to success.

Disclaimer: The opinion of the writer does not reflect the entire view of FOX Sports Philippines.