MANILA, Philippines -- Former University of Santo Tomas (UST) head coach Aldin Ayo says he still feels "blessed" even after incurring an indefinite ban from the UAAP in the wake of the controversial "Sorsogon bubble."
In his first public appearance since he was sanctioned by the UAAP, Ayo appeared on "Power and Play" with former PBA Commissioner Noli Eala and stressed that he had no regrets about the fallout of the events of last September.
"Things happen for a reason eh. Right now, I'm blessed na nandito ako sa Chooks to Go family," said Ayo, who last week was named the head coach of the Manila Chooks TM squad that will represent the Philippines in FIBA 3x3 events.
"I believe, dahil sa mga nangyari, it led me to this eh. Kung babaguhin natin, baka wala ako dito eh. And right now I'm grateful na andito ako," he added.
Ayo resigned from his post in UST last September, amid investigations into his role in the "Sorsogon bubble." Members of the UST men's basketball team allegedly trained in Ayo's hometown since June, in a potential violation of the country's quarantine restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was given an indefinite ban by the UAAP, after a UST report showed that Ayo "endanger(ed) the health and well-being of the student-athletes under his charge when he conducted the training during a government-declared state of public emergency intended to arrest the COVID-19 outbreak."
Ayo has appealed his ban, with UST endorsing it to the UAAP. In late September, the local government of Sorsogon found Ayo not liable of any violations, with Governor Francis "Chiz" Escudero saying that no prohibited basketball activities were conducted.
This is one reason that Ayo is confident his appeal to the UAAP will prosper.
"I'm confident because wala akong nilabag," he told Eala. "Makikita naman nila 'yan sa appeal ko. Sa akin, I'm just grateful doon sa endorsement ng UST, doon sa appeal ko."
The UAAP has said they will tackle Ayo's appeal "in due time."
Ayo insisted that the "Sorsogon bubble" cannot be considered a true team activity, as of the 30 players he had in UST, only 17 went to the province. Moreover, it was voluntary and not meant for basketball training.
"The objective was, the purpose was farming," he explained.
"During that time na I was thinking kung anong pwedeng maitulong sa mga bata. Because during that time, unang-una, walang pasok," he added.
Ayo said he was simply concerned for his players who were not doing anything at the moment, especially as there was no assurance at the time that the academic year will push through. Thus, he asked them if they wanted to go to Sorsogon to learn to work in farms.
He assured that all protocols were followed.
"Lahat naman po sinunod. Kaya nga medyo natagalan kasi siyempre, hindi naman ganoon kabilis kumuha ng mga papel. Lahat naman nag-comply," Ayo insisted. "Aware naman kami, aware ako sa protocol ng national government. So we made sure na lahat nagawa namin nang tama."
However, Ayo also admitted that this "was not a UST-sanctioned activity."
"Hindi involved 'yung UST, 'yung school. 'Yun, walang any participation or anything," he added.
There are no assurances that Ayo's ban in the UAAP will be lifted. At the moment, he says that a return to the UAAP is not his primary focus.
"Pag dumating 'yung tamang panahon," he said of coaching in the UAAP again. "Right now, one at a time muna, 'yung appeal muna, kung ano munang nasa harapan, 'yung appeal muna. And of course, siyempre, excited ako dito sa 3x3, sa Chooks to Go."
Ayo broke into the collegiate coaching scene with Colegio de San Juan de Letran, leading his alma mater to the NCAA title in 2015. He left the Knights shortly after their championship run, jumping ship to De La Salle University. He steered a powerful La Salle squad to the UAAP title in 2016 and another Finals appearance in 2017 before leaving for UST.
After rebuilding in 2018, Ayo and the Growling Tigers made a Cinderella-run to the UAAP Finals in 2019, where they were swept by three-time defending champions Ateneo de Manila University.