MANILA, Philippines -- Kenneth Duremdes, the commissioner of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL), has called on the management of Basilan Steel Jumbo Plastic to follow the proper processes for expressing their complaints regarding the league.
This, as Basilan recently expressed their disappointment on social media following the events in the MPBL's bubble where the team was forced to forfeit their do-or-die game against Davao Occidental in the finals of the South Division.
The team has also publicly questioned the leadership of Senator Manny Pacquiao, who founded the MPBL in 2018.
"I think it's uncalled for. Bakit? Bakit niyo pa dinadamay?" said Duremdes.
"Meron tayong commissioner's office na lahat ng complaints niyo nung araw, nung nangangailangan kayo ng tulong ko, dinadala niyo dun at hindi sa social media," he added. "Sa commissioner's office kayo nagpadala ng letter nung may problema kayo sa salaries ninyo. 'Yun 'yung tamang proseso."
Duremdes was disappointed with Basilan Steel's efforts to "discredit" the MPBL, even as he justified the decision that led to their exit in the MPBL Lakan Season playoffs.
The playoffs, delayed for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finally wrapped up on Sunday night with Davao Occidental defeating San Juan for the national championship. No one from the 100-person delegation of the league tested positive while inside the bubble.
"I thank God dahil walang nag-positive sa loob ng bubble,” said Duremdes. "That's the main reason why we are very strict in implementing the DOH (Department of Health) guideline. Based dun sa guideline, if one person lang tests positive inside the bubble, they will cancel the event.
"So, nagpapasalamat tayo kasi health concerns na ito. Itong pinag-uusapan natin ngayon, ano ba mas importante? You have to be considering the health risks and factors of each individual. Kaya ako nagpapasalamat ay dahil natapos natin 'yung season natin after almost one year na tumigil," he added.
Basilan was supposed to play Davao Occidental in a do-or-die game on March 10, but two members of its delegation tested positive for COVID-19 on March 8. According to Duremdes, at that point Basilan was already supposed to be sent back to Manila, as their entire delegation traveled to Subic in one vehicle.
"Actually nung may dalawang nag-positive na sa kanila, pinapauwi na dapat sila," the commissioner explained. "March 9 'yun. The reason is magkasama sila sa bus for three hours."
"According to our medical experts, considered as close contact kayo e. Automatically sabi nila, out na dapat 'yan. Sabi namin, wala kami magagawa kasi Department of Health and Subic Bay Management Authority na nagsabi," he added.
Basilan Steel's appeal for a re-swab was granted, and San Juan and Davao waited a week while the Steel remained in a quarantine hotel in Subic. Duremdes said that at that point, both San Juan and Davao said the situation was unfair.
"Pero sabi namin, maghintay tayo kasi family natin 'to. Bigyan natin sila ng chance based on the recommendations of our medical experts. So napagkasunduan na na if no one is positive, makakapasok na sila sa bubble."
The leaders of Basilan Steel's delegation, led by Jackson Chua and coach Jerson Cabiltes, knew and agreed to the scenarios laid out by the league, according to Duremdes.
"Clear sa kanila 'yun. Sabi pa nilang dalawa, 'Yes! Laban kami diyan!' Sa Zoom nila sinabi 'yun. They cannot deny that. Ako, itataya ko credibility ko diyan at 'yung lahat ng accomplishment ko sa basketball. Nandun si Emmer [Oreta] pati 'yung doctor natin," he stressed.
The Basilan delegation was re-tested on March 15. A day later, they returned four positive tests, and their game against Davao Occidental was declared a no-contest.
According to Duremdes, the league could have waited longer even if their conditional permit from DOH would lapse on March 21. SBMA, as its principal sponsor, was willing to extend it for a few days. However, the commissioner revealed that other members of the Basilan squad might have been infected, as the league saw footage from Subic Bay Peninsular, the league's quarantine hotel, that they broke protocol.
"We have CCTV video kaya hindi nila puwede sabihin na nag-quarantine sila sa isang room, nag-isolate kami based on sa sinasabi ninyo. We have video.
"This is during the additional days of quarantine nila (March 9-15). Alam ba ng team owner nila [Hegem Furigay] 'yan?" said Duremdes.
Moreover, Duremdes noted that Basilan Steel was dealing with internal issues before the start of the bubble. Chua and Cabiltes told the league commissioner that Furigay and team executive director Matthew David had not been in touch nor paying the salaries of Basilan since the league stopped play in March last year.
The MPBL released a memorandum that required the four remaining teams to pay at least 20-percent of the players' salaries.
"The players wrote us na hindi na raw sila kinakausap ng Basilan,” Duremdes said. "So as commissioner, I stepped in kasi we are about to resume the league. Sabi nila (Chua and Cabiltes), walang binibigay 'yung team owners sa kanila. So, even me, nung kino-contact ko sila, hindi nila ako sinasagot. To the point na nagsabi na si Jax and Jerson sa akin na, 'Comm, this is our only chance. Help us.' Which I did. After that, after a couple of Zoom meetings with Jax and Jerson, wala pa rin kaming nakukuha na balita. E malapit na 'yung bubble pero may problems pa rin 'yung kanilang organization."
Duremdes said the Basilan players were demanding for one month's salary to play in the bubble.
"The management was saying they will pay 50 percent bago pumasok at the other 50 'pag nakapasok na," Duremdes said. "Ayaw pa rin pumasok ng players. Galit na galit sila. So sabi ko, tulungan natin. I tried to call Matt and Hegem pero hindi pa rin namin makausap. Nung sumagot na 'yung Matt, he said na, 'What will we gain? One game lang naman lalaruin namin.' Sabi ko, 'Sige, kausapin ko na si Senator (Manny Pacquiao).'"
"Sabi ni Sen [Pacquiao] na masisira 'yung bubble natin kapag hindi pumasok si Basilan dahil sa reason na ganun. So, sabi ko, ma-fo-forfeit 'yung franchise niyo dahil nasa by-laws 'yun. 'Yun lang sabi ko tapos next day, nag-respond na si Hegem at si Matt na papasok na raw sila sa bubble. Kasi sabi ko, 'pag hindi niyo binigay 'yung hinihingi ng players, sasagutin ng MPBL 'yan para lang matuloy ito. To our surprise, the following day, nag-connect na si Hegem at Matt kay Jax at Jerson," continued Duremdes.
Duremdes doubts if Basilan was able to follow the pre-bubble protocols set by DOH which was for the players to undergo an RT-PCR test to make sure that they don't have the virus before heading to Subic because Furigay only approved of the team’s participation last March 5.
"So 'yun na nga sinasabi namin, nag-swab test or antigen ba sila bago pumunta sa Subic? Hindi ba nag-aaway pa sila nun? Nag-quarantine ba sila? Dito kitang-kita na hindi sila sumusunod sa protocol, paano pa kaya sa labas?" he pointed out.
Sponsor Chooks-to-Go and Pacquiao tried to further help out Basilan by shouldering the remaining balance of Subic Bay Peninsular Hogel, which amounted to P455,535. On Monday, the team stressed to ABS-CBN News that they did not ask for such help.
However, they are still demanding a full refund of their expenses for the past season, which Duremdes said was not possible.
"With the help of Chooks-to-Go na-partner natin, unang-una nagpapasalamat tayo sa kanila who did this from the bottom of their heart. Ayaw nga niya ma-credit dito pero we had to thank him. Pero may mali ba sa pagtulong? Tinulungan natin sila ever since," said Duremdes.
"When we consulted our legal, hindi naman nakalaro e, 'yun ang sabi sa akin ng ating legal na tulungan sila pero not in full. Si Basilan kasi, ang salaries kasi manggagaling kay Hegem at 'yung operational expenses galing sa Jumbo Plastic, as per Jax 'yan."
Asked for a comment to Duremdes' statements, David said they will need time to make an appropriate response given the sensitivity of the situation.