MANILA, Philippines -- The Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee on Monday approved the proposed measure that seeks to grant Filipino citizenship to Barangay Ginebra import Justin Brownlee.
The panel, chaired by Senator Francis Tolentino, tackled Senate Bill Numbers 1336, 1516 and 2048 sponsored by Senators Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, Sonny Angara and Joel Villanueva, respectively.
"I am a Ginebra fan forever… I am very proud to say that I really volunteered to author this measure not only because I would like the Gilas to win in the international arena. Not only because Justin Brownlee comes from Ginebra. I know he is an athlete characterized by excellence and humility," dela Rosa told the panel.
"Pag nasa lounge po kami, ang bukambibig po talaga nila eh paano matutulungan po 'yung basketball program ng Pilipinas," Angara said, as he also conveyed his support to Brownlee's Filipino citizenship.
Prior to the bills' approval, senators took turns in asking Brownlee about his motivation in seeking a Filipino citizenship.
Brownlee, who was born in Georgia, USA, said he loves the way Filipinos treat each other, and how they strive and remain happy amid difficult situations.
His favorite Filipino food is chicken adobo and frequents Batangas, Boracay and Tagaytay City as his favorite destinations in the Philippines.
"Really, it's just how people get along, how everyone treats one another. Just being in the US, it's a lot of hate. It's a lot of diversity and stuff like that. I just love to see how people, less fortunate, and they're just happy, and they just get along. Everybody knows how to treat each other" Brownlee told the committee.
"Everybody is not in a great situation. But you know, just making the best out of every situation. And I took note of that and take everything to the heart," he added.
"The Filipino culture, they definitely have the humility.. which I really like," Brownlee said.
Panel chairman Tolentino then asked Brownlee if he is aware of the Article, Section 2 of the Philippine Constitution that requires its citizens to serve the country.
"You now very well that we're visited by 20 or more typhoons every year… are you willing to defend the Philippines? Are you willing to participate in any disaster rescue operations?" Tolentino asked.
Brownlee immediately replied in the affirmative as he admitted that he has no military training record in the United States.
"Opo," Browlee said.
But he will be most willing to take part in military training here, and even volunteer in disaster response activities.
"What does it mean for you to become a true-blooded Filipino citizen, and wearing this jersey representing the country in international games?" Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva then asked.
"It means tremendously a lot. Coming here in 2016 and just received so much love and admiration from the fans… I can't believe it. It was overwhelming. Just wearing a flag, it's just, it seems they allowed me to give back to the people, the fans," Brownlee said.
Brownlee, 34, has won five championships with Ginebra in the PBA and is a two-time Best Import. In the on-going Commissioner's Cup, he is averaging 27.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks per game.
The hearing for Brownlee's citizenship was also attended by officials from the Departments of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Office of the Solicitor General, Bureau of Immigration, National Bureau of Investigation and the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
The officials vouched for Brownlee's good record and future contributions to the nation.
Senate committee on sports chairman, Senator Christopher Go likewise endorsed Brownlee.
"He has proven himself not only through his outstanding performance and decorated career, but also his love for Filipinos and our culture and traditions," Go said.
"Si Brownlee may pusong Pinoy at 'never say die' attitude. Kaya napamahal na siya sa mga Pilipino at alam ko rin na napamahal na rin ang mga Pilipino sa kanya, vice versa… Higit sa talento nya sa basketball, ipinapakita nya ang puso nya na lumaban para sa Pilipino at ang pagmamahal nya po sa ating bayan. Napakaimportante po iyon, lalung-lalo na po sa ating FIBA World hosting next year po," Go added.
After the hearing, senators had a group photo opportunity with Brownlee.
Dela Rosa, who asked Brownlee to serve as the model or ambassador of the government's campaign against illegal drugs, was later on seen having a photo opportunity with Brownlee raising his hand.
Asked if Brownlee will endorse him for reelection come 2025, dela Rosa said the pose was just part of their light moment after the hearing.
"It's part of the biruan lang 'yun pero pwede rin (endorsement). Malaking bagay din 'yun kung tutuusin. Part of the biruan lang 'yan. Masaya ang hearing," Dela Rosa told reporters.
When asked if Brownlee will endorse him for re-election, Go said: "Nasa kanya (Brownlee) 'yun."
The measures for Brownlee's citizenship will be consolidated first before it will be forwarded to the plenary, for its expected approval before the end of the year.
The SBP is hoping that Brownlee will be available to play as the naturalized player for Gilas Pilipinas in time for the February 2023 window of the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers.