For any UAAP spectator who doesn’t closely follow the UP Fighting Maroons, the basketball team’s current success seems to have blossomed overnight. For an entire generation, this run has been dreamlike. Only the UP network of students, faculty, and alumni could support a team that’s gone on to have a few winless seasons. Until recently, no one seemed to question why the team was the cellar-dweller it was. Maybe the teams of the other schools simply played better. Maybe it was the image of the university having higher standards, making it difficult for many great student athletes to enter the institution and play with the team.
And so the Fighting Maroons stayed in this pitiful shape—until Renan Dalisay came along to help. Dalisay is a UP alum, businessman, former National Food Authority administrator, and former chief of staff to fellow isko Senator Kiko Pangilinan. He came across the basketball team’s sorry situation purely by accident, when he met somebody from the Maroons coaching staff—as he related in a famous Facebook post he wrote in 2014.
“Recently, when I met somebody from the Maroon's coaching staff, I got to learn why: our team has been playing hungry, literally,” wrote Dalisay then.
“I talked with the players and also heard it from them firsthand. Asked what they needed the most, they replied: ‘We need more food.’”
Dalisay discovered the student team members would go to practice on empty stomachs, “playing competitive games without the nourishment required of a student-athlete,” the post continued. “They've been walking on foot from one class to the next, one destination to another to save a coin or two for their education. They have not been receiving their allowances, the measly sum of anywhere from P5,000 to P10,000 – a pittance considering what they have to go through to play for the country's Premiere University while measuring up to its stringent academic standards.”
Dalisay also reported that electricity in the athletes’ quarters was cut off because of ‘unpaid bills.’
This sparked the founding of the UP alumni network Nowhere to Go But UP to solicit and collect donations for the Fighting Maroons. In short, if it weren’t for Dalisay, legions of devoted alumni wouldn’t have started pouring in the support UP needed to just compete decently, much less make it to the UAAP Finals.
This is the story of how one basketball fan and Nowhere to Go But UP subverted—and in the process, exposed—a system that wasn’t really holding U.P. and other schools down, but wasn’t helping them either.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your work outside of Nowhere to Go But UP?
I’m the type of person who is always left with the eight ball—I always find myself in challenging situations. I was appointed NFA administrator in the latter part of 2014 when the administrator at that time was dragged into a scandal. I led in changing the mindset of NFA personnel by involving them in my Food Guardians advocacy.As a result, the supply and price of rice was very much stable during my time even when we were hit by the most severe El Niño. It’s always my calling na tulungan lahat ng mga nasa ibaba para maiahon—my short stint in NFA will show that.
You're a PolSci graduate from UP. What ties did you have to the Fighting Maroons during your college years?
I was just a spectator cheering for the Maroons during my college days. I was in college [when UP won their] last championship in 1986.
Did you have any aspirations of being a basketball player in college?
I was a basketball player in high school at UP Cebu and elementary at University of San Carlos. At a young age I suffered a torn ligament.
How did you end up in the position of being able to help the team, and what's happened since you started helping out?
It was actually by accident. I know Poch Juinio, one of the assistant coaches. We were supposed to meet for dinner in my house when he said he was going to be late. Sabi niya kasi may mga pakakainin pa siya. I told him isama mo na lang at dito mo na pakainin sa bahay ko. I didn’t know na mga players pala ng UP Men’s Basketball Team mga kasama niya.
During dinner, I just asked them bakit ‘di sila nananalo. There, they told me about their situation. Naawa ako and committed to help them. By just calling friends and other alumni, we were able to raise P500,000 in less than a month.
After writing and posting the essay on Facebook, I received several messages from people I didn’t know but wanted to help. We put up a private foundation called Nowhere to Go But UP composed of UP alumni volunteers to receive donations—it was harder to course it through UP, as all donations become government funds because of UP being a state university. We set up online donation portals as well.
Other than being a UP alumnus, is there anything, any personal experience that drives you to help these student-athletes?
I simply felt that it was my duty to do something. I was moved by their plight and I felt it was my duty to help. And as my article would show, I love basketball and I love rooting for the underdog.
Have you helped or contributed anything to UP outside of helping the men's basketball team?
Yes, I helped UP Cebu before when there was a move before to abolish it. We, along with my high school batch ’84, were able to construct a Multi-Purpose Hall there.
How much money have you raised for the team as of now?
After five years, probably millions already with the help of major sponsors. I cannot say anymore how much exactly.
How has the support changed the atmosphere within the Fighting Maroons network, leading to this winning season? What new amenities and facilities were the team able to get because of this?
The support that was coming from the community was slowly giving our men’s basketball team a fighting chance. We were able to improve the training infrastructures and facilities. We also secured donors for trainings abroad.
In raising financial support for the team, how did you feel about having to play the money game just for UP to be competitive in UAAP men's basketball?
Changing the team’s mindset was the primary goal at that time. It was about building the UP community to address a problem plaguing our student athletes that was staring us right in our very faces. It was about responding to a call for help from one of our own. Even with private and sponsor support now, we still cannot match big sports programs from other private universities. But what we’ve achieved more than the money that was coming in from crowdsourcing was giving them a fighting chance by making them competitive and believe that they can win.
How do you feel now that UP is in the UAAP finals? Has everything paid off for you, or is there still more work to do beyond the players' roles on the court?
We said that basketball is just the beginning. What we can achieve in a very popular sport such as basketball will gather enough attention for all our other student athletes in different sports.
In UP, it is very hard to be a student athlete. There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to gathering support for the other sports in the university. We got the attention of the UP community now that we are in the Finals—although some were there ever since even during those dark days of continuous losing.
What do you think needs to change in the UAAP system, and how would you improve it?
UAAP should give a very big premium on sportsmanship and fair play. Officiating has to be improved. And if UAAP is profiting from these games, I hope a portion of it goes back to the teams participating, especially in the case of a state university.
In your opinion, do you think the UP administration and the government have failed the varsity programs in state universities?
Student-athletes, especially in the state universities, need more support from government. And keep politics out of sports.
Do you see any such change happening soon? What do you think needs to be done in order to get those changes made?
We have awoken a gentle giant in the form of the UP community. There will be more of us who will now engage the league in order to improve it further.
Our story would show that poverty is not only in the society in general—it is staring us right in our very faces, in our own universities, in our own communities, in our own student athletes. Being a state scholar, it is just right to give back to those in need in our very own UP Naming Mahal.