There’s a FIBA eligibility rule that’s been under appeal by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipians (SBP) for years now. It’s the rule disallowing a player to suit up for a national team unless he or she was issued a passport of the country before turning 16 regardless of bloodline. Curiously, FIBA allows a player with no heritage to represent a country if he or she was born there. The basis is jus soli, not jus sanguinis.
The FIBA rule has been abused over time because of a loophole. Qatar, for instance, resorted to issuing passports to foreigners before turning 16 so that in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers last February, the national team listed four players with no Qatari heritage. One was from Senegal and three from Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were among over 10 foreigners recruited to play for Qatar in 2015 and were issued passports before turning 16. Theoretically, a national team may enlist 12 foreigners to play for the country if they were issued passports before turning 16. Could this be an issue of human trafficking of minors?
Just as this FIBA rule begs to be revisited, there is a PBA rule that also needs to be reconsidered. It’s the draft eligibility rule requiring Fil-foreigners to secure Bureau of Immigration (BI) recognition and Department of Justice (DOJ) affirmation of their citizenship even if they’ve been issued Philippine passports. PBA legal counsel Atty. Melvin Mendoza recalled that the BI and DOJ requirements were submitted to the Board of Governors in a resolution in 1999 and adopted about four years later. The safeguards were to preserve the integrity of citizenship in the wake of the exposé of Fil-Shams Sonny Alvarado, Al Segova and Robert Parker, who managed to acquire Philippine passports under dubious circumstances.
Player agent Marvin Espiritu said at the time, the requirements were relevant but now, conditions are different. “You can’t fake a passport and you can’t acquire a passport unless it’s by law,” he said. “There are foreign-born players with legitimate Philippine passports and bloodline but because of a technicality, can’t get the BI and DOJ requirements. Abroad, foreign-born players can get Philippine passports from the consulate through what is called the derivative citizenship process, meaning the Filipino parent must be Filipino at the time of the athlete’s birth or if already naturalized for foreign citizenship, must reacquire Filipino citizenship as a dual. Republic Act 9225 allows this derivative process. If a foreign-born athlete is a minor, he or she may acquire a Philippine passport when joined by the Filipino parent as in Kyle Pascual’s case.”
Espiritu said the bottom line is bloodline. “A foreigner with no bloodline born in the Philippines can’t be considered a local in the PBA,” he said. “But a foreign-born athlete with Filipino blood should be considered a local if he or she has a passport. Unfortunately, the BI won’t issue a certificate of recognition to a foreign-born Philippine passport holder if his Filipino parent was no longer a Filipino citizen at the time of his birth. It’s a technicality that affects Philippine passport holders like Tyrus Hill, Jason Brickman, Jeremiah Gray and Brandon Rosser.” In Rosser’s case, he was born in the US but his brother Matt was born in the Philippines. Both were issued Philippine passports but Brandon doesn’t quality for a BI certificate so under PBA rules, he can’t play as a local.
“Hill, Brickman, Gray and Rosser are potential first-round picks who won’t be eligible for Gilas because they were issued passports after turning 16 so they’re immediately able to play in the PBA,” said Espiritu. “Their mothers were naturalized Americans when they were born but they’re of Filipino blood. The parents reacquired Filipino citizenship so their sons were issued Filipino passports. Their bloodline is not in question.” Espiritu said the limit of five Fil-foreigners per PBA team would still apply for players with Philippine passports but no BI certificates. Regarding the PBA rule, Espiritu said as long as it’s not amended, the requirement must be respected. “The rule is there and it’s up to the Board to decide whether or not to keep it,” he said. “We understand why it was put in and we know ‘di rin basta-basta inaalis ‘yan.”
Player agent Charlie Dy said Brickman, Gray and Rosser are now in the US but can fly in anytime because they’re Philippine passport holders. By law, they’re not foreigners. Mendoza said any amendment to the PBA rule must come from the Board. In the same way that SBP is appealing for the FIBA eligibility rule to be revisited, perhaps it’s time to rethink the PBA draft eligibility rule on Fil-foreigners. Surely, a foreign-born Philippine passport holder with Filipino heritage should be considered a local by the PBA because that’s precisely what SBP is appealing to FIBA for recognition.
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