Gamblin’ and Fixin’

by Henry L. Liao

Dante Silverio: Principles matter most.
Dante Silverio: Principles matter most.

“Unearthing the Game-fixing Scandal” screamed the headline of one of the articles in the 1979 PBA Annual.

Here is why.

In the opening game of the best-of-five finals in the third conference (Invitational), Crispa blasted Toyota, 129-101, as the Tamaraws played without Ramon Fernandez, Abe King and Ernesto Estrada. The three were benched by head coach/team manager Dante Silverio, who had returned to the bench midway through the second conference for “not playing their best.”

Game-fixing allegations had resurfaced in the title playoffs of the third conference.

Appalled by the rout, Toyota management overruled Silverio’s decision and reinstated the three players. Silver quickly resigned, declaring that he would not compromise his principles for victory.

With Fernandez, King and Estrada back in the fold and imports Bruce King and Andrew Fields living up to their billing, Toyota emerged triumphant in the next three games, 123-95, 107-102 and 98-87, to capture the third conference crown under coach Fort Acuna.

Ramon Fernandez
Ramon Fernandez

Silverio’s resignation came as an offshoot of his crusade to rid the PBA of the unsavory taints of alleged game-fixing and point-shaving that resurfaced during the third conference (Invitational).

The rumblings of an alleged game-fixing scandal started after the fourth game of the best-of-five All-Filipino title playoffs that resulted in a 2-2 deadlock.

In a National Sportswriters Association of the Philippines (NSAP) editorial on rampant gambling at the Araneta Coliseum during the PBA games, it was inferred that some of the outcomes of the PBA games and some of the performances of its players may have been influenced by forces engaged in gambling.

The pooled statement by the NSAP pointed to the “rampant” betting during the PBA games and the way “gamblers and bet fixers regularly lord it over during big PBA games at the Araneta Coliseum.”

Abe King Jr.
Abe King Jr.

Then-PBA Commissioner Leo Prieto was quick to react and termed the NSAP statement as “unjust” since it tended to imply that the league had not done anything about the reported gambling.

“The PBA is aware that there is gambling going on – from friendly, penny-ante bets to probably not-so-friendly, higher stakes games,” said the PBA in a statement.

“While we earnestly would want to curb gambling ourselves, the PBA is not vested with the necessary police powers to control it. Notwithstanding that, and despite the fact that is outside the scope of the PBA, we did refer the matter of the ‘kristos’ (bet takers) and their alleged meeting places to the authorities concerned. The more important point, however, lies in the distinction between gambling that deliberately tries to influence the results of a game by what we term game-fixing or point-shaving. It is the latter which we are more concerned with, and against which we have instituted measures.

Ernesto (Estoy) Estrada
Ernesto (Estoy) Estrada

“On our own initiative, we had approached the National Bureau of Investigation and the CIS to ask their help in investigating referees and players. They were thoroughly investigated, put under surveillance, and were all given a clean bill of health. This investigation, however, is an ongoing thing, and we are continuously coordinating with such agencies. We would like to reiterate our point that, if and when anyone is found guilty of any anomaly, we will neither condone nor protect the guilty party. We have cooperated and coordinated with the military authorities in the past, and we definitely will continue to do so.”

Fortunato (Fort) Acuna
Fortunato (Fort) Acuna

The Redmanizers eventually secure the All-Filipino diadem with a Game Five success over the Tamaraws. But two months later, during the finals of the third conference, rumors of game shenanigans resurfaced.

This time, the Presidential Task Force on Anti-Gambling steeped into the scene and leaked out news that it had busted the syndicate behind the alleged irregularities. It arrested six members of a well-organized syndicate allegedly behind the game-fixing and point-shaving activities in the PBA. The report said that among those arrested inside a beauty parlor in Divisoria was a Chinese mestizo alleged to be the mastermind.

Newspaper reports said that it had gathered evidence strong enough to indict 12 players and five referees.

The bottom line: Subsequently, no charges were filed against any player or referee. NADA.

And that’s all she wrote.

Henry Liao
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