Senator Sonny Angara expressed concern Monday on a possible new Ateneo foreign recruit in the UAAP, should Ange Kouame be naturalized and considered a local athlete by the collegiate league.
Angara, an active supporter of his alma mater University of the Philippines in the UAAP, said it will be unfair to the competition if the current champion Blue Eagles will be given a chance to pick a foreign reinforcement as Kouame in effect will be considered a local player.
“As it is, Ateneo is already lording it over with one import and that's Kouame. If they were to get another import, would that not be fair to the rest of the league?” said Angara, who is also the proponent of the bill that will naturalize Kouame.
But according to Committee on Justice chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, who acknowledged he was not privy to UAAP rules, believed that counting Ivory Coast-born Kouame as an “import” once he becomes a naturalized Filipino suppresses his rights and privileges as a citizen of the Philippines.
Gordon, however, acknowledged that the UAAP, being a private league, can establish its own rules.
“I think if we give him citizenship, he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of a citizen. I don’t think it will reflect badly on the Ateneo if they have Kouame as a Filipino. In fact, it will give us pride that somebody chose to be a Filipino,” Gordon replied to the query.
Gordon also said he wouldn’t call the Blue Eagle big man an import, especially if he signified his intention of becoming a Filipino and staying as one even after his playing days.
“I would not classify him as an import because he really loves to become a citizen,” Gordon said.
Angara asked the lawmaker from Zambales if he found it discriminatory should the UAAP create a resolution requiring 10 years of residence for foreign-born athletes before playing as locals in the competition.
Gordon answered affirmatively, explaining that it is a restraint to his full rights as a naturalized citizen.
“He is a citizen once we say so,” the senator said.
The head of the Philippine Red Cross also addressed the issue of fairness in the league raised by Angara, who was also wary of schools who are “better funded than the others.”
“I don’t think it's a question of fairness but competitiveness. I'm not aware that funding is a requirement. In fact, in the Ateneo, getting educated is the priority,” Gordon stressed.
Gordon, who graduated from the UP College of Law and holds a bachelors degree in history and government from Ateneo, believed that having foreign players is not a basis to win a championship.
Senate President Tito Sotto agreed with his fellow senator, saying his alma mater Letran won an NCAA title without foreign player.
“We can make adjustments, I suppose, in the UAAP. We don't want to win championships because we diminish other fellow. We'd like to win championships because we practice harder and we get taller players,” Gordon added.
While Angara appreciated the answers of his fellow lawmakers, he stated that he does not agree with them. He reiterated the power the UAAP board has in providing rules that will equal the playing field.
“It is well within the powers of UAAP to provide some kind of rule which will be similar to having a level playing field, not tilting it towards overly moneyed teams,” Angara said.
Angara further said that if the 10-year rule will not be applied by the league, it will be “truly unfair” and a “detriment of fair play.”
“It would be a shame if we will tilt the scales in favor of one team, which we may be doing,” he said.
The senate has passed on committee level the bills seeking to grant Filipino citizenship to Koume and footballer Bienvenido Marañón.
Kouame is looking to play for Gilas Pilipinas in international competitions while Marañón is the star striker of United City FC and is originally from Spain. He has expressed his intent to play for the Philippine Azkals.