MANILA, Philippines -- The chances of Ange Kouame suiting up for Gilas Pilipinas in the near future greatly improved on Wednesday afternoon after the House Committee on Justice approved the measure seeking his naturalization.
Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno, also the vice-chairman of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), authored House Bill 5951 that seeks to grant Filipino citizenship to Kouame.
It was approved on Wednesday afternoon, with Kouame and SBP president Al Panlilio making their appearances at the virtual hearing.
"Ang SBP po ay nagsusumikap po na mag-improve tayo," said Panlilio, who noted that the Philippines is now ranked 31st in the world by FIBA -- a jump of 33 places since 2006, when the federation was founded.
"And we want to progress in every tournament that we participate in," he added.
Kouame's inclusion into the national team program is expected to help Gilas Pilipinas improve further. The 23-year-old center has been the anchor of the Ateneo de Manila University's defense in the past two UAAP seasons, and has already been included in the training pool for the November 2020 qualifying window.
While he did not compete in Gilas' games against Thailand in Manama, Bahrain, Kouame was instrumental in helping the team's other young big men Isaac Go, Kemark Carino, and Justine Baltazar.
"The SBP extends its gratitude to the House Committee on Justice for their swift approval of House Bill 5951 for the naturalization of Ange Kouame," Panlilio said in a separate statement.
"Our Gilas Pilipinas men's team was able to jump-start our preparations for 2023 with their inspired performance in Manama, Bahrain in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers and receiving this good news from the House of Representatives gives our program even more momentum," he added.
The next step is for the Senate to approve the counterpart measure, SB 1982, filed by Senator Sonny Angara.
"We remain hopeful that Kouame will be able to play as a Filipino at the soonest time possible as every FIBA window is an opportunity to build on the future of Philippine basketball," said Panlilio.
Angara on Wednesday said on social media that he hopes the Upper House can act on his measure soon -- hopefully, before the February 2021 qualifying window.
"Angelo Kouame loves the Philippines, has really put down roots, and is thrilled at the prospect of being naturalized," Angara said.