by Dennis U. Eroa
TRUST me, you don’t mess around with Games and Amusements board honcho Baham Mitra. Simply put, Mitra, proud son of Palawan, isn’t going to back down if one crosses the line, so to speak. Let’s also include Rocky Chan, mastermind of the Pilipinas VisMin Cup to the mix.
Well-loved and respected because of his fair and lawful management style, Mitra has given the government agency the respect it needed with his emboldened determination. In short, he isn’t timid but proactive when trying to right a wrong. That’s the Baham that I know. Although I’m very honest in telling him whenever we rub shoulders that my idol is his late father House Speaker Ramon Mitra, who nearly became one of the country’s great presidents.
And Chan? His decision to slap severe or even career-threatening punishments to the wrongdoers might be what the doctor ordered to cure a disease called game-fixing.
Mitra, a multi-awarded lawmaker, through the GAB’s regional office, cracked the whip in the mind-boggling Lapu Lapu Heroes and Siquijor Mystics outing. I will no longer delve into the specifics of the game which was heavily pummeled by basketball-crazy Filipinos, including established stars, ordinary fans and self-styled experts.
Suffice to say that instead of enjoying a stress buster, we suffered a nagging headache after wading forever in a sea of desperation. Not only missed free throws, out-of-the-world layups and poor shots selection presented a recipe for disaster but to the keen-eyed observers, some players resembled zombies on the court.
The men behind Chooks-to-Go and other sponsors must be scratching their heads in disbelief after reading the fury of the netizens. If Lapu Lapu, a true Filipino hero is alive, he would be greatly upset and angered, while the Mystics needed to evaluate their inner selves. The magic is gone.
May I also ask what were the coaches of the opposing teams doing with the comedy of errors happening right before their eyes? Are Siquijor’s Joelo Palapal and Lapu Lapu’s Francis Auquico blind to the tragedy unfolding right before their eyes? I feel pity for the management of these teams but I must also probe their intentions. And I am also disappointed that the commentators of the game didn’t have the temerity and wisdom to point out the unfolding tragedy, choosing instead to blame the ‘’slippery’’ ball as the culprit. I’m sure our battle-grizzled colleagues have already learned their lessons well following the uproar of the public.
It must be mentioned that Chan did not bite the slippery ball reasoning because the laughable performances weren’t about the ball but the fault of the players.
How about the players? Or the referees? The sight of aging warrior Jojo Tangcay, once the darling of Manila crowd in the amateurs and once-promising Dawn Ochea bungling their out-of-the-world free throws were too much to stomach. But Rendell Senining was the hands-down choice for the best obvious attempt to miss free throws using first his left hand before shooting with his right hand.
It is understandable that Ronald Mascariñas, president of Chooks-to-Go issued a strongly-worded statement after what happened. That was bad publicity. Mascariñas, known for his passionate and valuable support to the sport, isn’t in the mood to turn his chicken empire into a laughing stock by do-nothing basketball players.
This was a case of two teams guilty of conspiring to disrespect the sport and putting a huge dent in the effort of the Pilipinas VisMin Cup to offer a semblance of normalcy in the face of the pandemic. Remember, the VisMin Cup was launched against all odds to provide livelihood and promote sports tourism.
Chan is a respectable guy and I am sure that he is frustrated with what happened in the bubble. He could have spent precious time trying to fill in the gaps for a new pro league but now he and his staff are breaking their heads saving the future or to be precise bringing back the respectability of the VisMin Cup due to this isolated incident.
Mitra’s feeling is mutual because the GAB is consumed right from the start of helping the organizers put up the VisMin in line with health protocols. Mitra made sure that the GAB will fulfill its mandated duties as the government agency task to regulate professional sports.
During the historic opening at the beautiful seaside town of Alcantara, Mitra spoke via the internet with optimism brought about by a united stand among the parties concerned. As a former player himself, I can only imagine his disgust after watching and studying the game.
The suspensions are well-deserved though I have doubts if the players will be able to shell out money to pay the fines. Among the big names expelled was former Ateneo de Manila star Ryan Buenafe. Obviously out-of-shape due to his lack of discipline in the past, Buenafe again wasted a golden opportunity to regain his bearing. Maybe, he’s collateral damage but as the star player, he could have put some sense into the heads of his fellow Mystics.
This goes the same with the fallen Heroes like Tangcay, Monbert Arong, and Ochea, and Ferdinand Lusdoc, who at one point showed bright promises in their respective careers.
Still, this unfortunate event must not take the fight away from the VisMin Cup of providing a playground for the young and old. VisMin must be resilient and stick to its mission and vision. By its bold move, VisMin did not conceal its indifference and displeasure to the wrongdoers and this will make the league stronger and relevant to the country’s basketball landscape.
As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining and fighting to correct a wrong will eventually trigger greater success.