GAB: Some leagues bypassing regulatory body’s authority to run during pandemic

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Oct 23 2021 03:38 PM

With its authority as the government agency regulating professional sports apparently being flouted, the Games and Amusements Board is contemplating on withdrawing from the group enforcing the Joint Administrative Order of the government in overseeing all sports activities in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GAB board’s sentiments were contained in a draft letter dated October 20 and addressed to the leaders of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of the Emerging Infectious Diseases made up of Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Secretary Karlo Nograles and Secretary Carlito Galvez, Chief Implementor of National Task Force against COVID-19.

ABS-CBN News online was able to get a copy of the unsigned draft letter.

Mitra voiced dissatisfaction over the way the GAB was seemingly being circumvented in the agency’s monthly online conference on Friday.

“We’re actually inclined to get out of the Joint Administrative Order with the PSC and the Department of Health because I think everything should already resume. They (the IATF) have asked us to implement a no-audience policy and 14-day quarantine (for pro leagues and athletes),” he stressed.

The JAO was the document laying down the rules and the health and safety protocols that would allow pro leagues and their respective players such as the PBA, PFL and PVL to compete and national athletes vying in overseas meets to resume actual training.

It was jointly signed last year by the Department of Health, Philippine Sports Commission, the GAB so that the functions of the two agencies would not come into conflict with each other, although some portions have been amended and updated depending on the current pandemic conditions. 

“But I understand that they have allowed some (leagues) to go on. Parang useless ’yong JAO. Sumusunod kami sa kanila (IATF) kaya lang parang hindi rin nasusunod (The JAO seems to be useless). We are following them (the IATF) but they are not being followed,” the GAB chairman said without naming the leagues during the press briefing.

The draft letter, however, was explicit of the leagues involved: the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League owned by Sen. Manny Pacquiao and the newly formed Filbasket spearheaded by former Ateneo varsity star Jai Reyes and ex-Sta. Lucia Realty team manager Buddy Encarnado.

Filbasket announced on its Facebook page that it would proceed with the league’s opening on October 28 at the Subic Bay Gymnasium inside the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Freeport Zone in Olongapo City, Zambales.

Both MPBL and Filbasket claim to be “amateur” leagues, although the participants — coaches, players and other league personnel — are paid for their services, which under the joint circular issued by the GAB and the Philippine Sports Commission classifies them as pros. 

“It seems that that the JAO is not feasible and not working anymore in view of the fact that 2 basketball leagues, the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) and Filbasket, were also approved by the honorable body (IATF) despite their commercial and business intent,” the draft letter said.

“Clearly from the GAB and PSC Joint Resolution, MPBL and Filbasket, are neither amateur leagues nor are they aimed solely for the development of the national training pool. Hence, they are professional leagues and shall be under the regulation and supervision of GAB. 

“They shall embrace GAB’s authority and comply with guidelines of the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) of PSC, GAB and DOH,” it added, citing Presidential Decree No. 871.

Under the law issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos: “it shall be unlawful for any person, entity or association to conduct professional basketball games or other professional games and competitions without permit and licenses duly issued by the Board.”

“Consequently, allowing sports leagues like MPBL and Filbasket to hold their basketball tournaments during this unprecedented time without a National Government Agency (NGA) overseeing the said events will open floodgates for all amateur/non-professional leagues to the detriment of their health and safety,” the GAB underscored.

“As we applaud their noble vision to provide livelihood and opportunities to earn to those affected by the pandemic, we need to stress that GAB’s mandate is to uphold integrity and provide ample protection to all professional athletes and stakeholders involved in the conduct and operation of professional basketbal.”

GAB legal division chief Atty. Omar Benitez, who was also present during the press conference, pointed out two aspects to the issue “one being the professional aspect (of the leagues) and the health and safety aspect of the participants involved.”

Invoking PD 871, Dioscoro Bautista, the GAB professional sports division chief, wrote Reyes last October 17 refuting the “amateur” status of Filbasket based on the joint resolution of the PSC and GAB, and requiring the league to secure the needed documents and licenses to run as a pro league.

Benitez was hopeful that the issues with the MPBL and the Filbasket could still be sorted out, but also warned it was also authorized to issue a “cease and desist order” to both leagues unless they comply with the proper requirements. 

Mitra was also anxious that problems might arise should these developments be allowed to prosper without proper GAB regulation.

“Ingat lang tayo kasi hindi lahat ng LGUs (local government units) alam ’yong health and safety protocols na tama. Problema sa isa, madadamay pa ang lahat. (Let should be careful because not all LGUS are aware of the health and safety protocols. The problem one might drag others into it),” warned Mitra.

He cited the example of the unregulated cockpits in Davao that resulted in the spike of COVID-19 cases in the area. 

“We should not let our guards down. The GAB is still here to try and help as much as possible. Our mandate is still to take care of our pro athletes,” the GAB chairman said. 

FILBASKET’S SIDE

Meanwhile, Reyes said “Filbasket’s inaugural bubble tournament is amateur in nature.”

This was contained in a letter of Reyes, a former Ateneo varsity player and pro player, dated last October 19 addressed to Bautista.

With the approval of the GAB board, Bautista wrote Reyes last October 17 asserting that Filbasket was a running pro league based on Joint Resolution 2020-01 of the GAB and the Philippine Sports Commission.

The resolution provides the guidelines for the “definition of professional athletes and professional sports,” Bautista wrote the Filbasket head, which states that those receiving numeration for playing are classified as pros.

“Filbasket and its teams are merely providing token mounts or allowances because this already means a lot in the basketball industry given our almost two-year absence from basketball (due to the COVID-19 pandemic),” said in the reply letter, addressing the GAB official as “Dear Dioscoro.”

On the issue of profit-sharing among the clubs, Reyes claimed that “the whole context of the statements was about the plans of Filbasket for the future and does not refer to this inaugural tournament.”

Regarding the sponsors of the tournament, he said that “we are only getting sponsorships in kind or x-deals needed for the tournament. If there is any cash involved, this only defrays the costs of holding the tournament given the need for a bubble.”

Reyes, however, said that as the Filbasket grows, “we are excited to register and work with the GAB to ensure the integrity of the game just like the recently turned pro leagues in (sic) the VisMin Cup and NBL.”