Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League commissioner Kenneth Duremdes called Basilan-Jumbo Plastic’s efforts to discredit the league through social media uncalled for even as he justified the decision that led to its exit in the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan Season playoffs.
While Duremdes is grateful that no one out from the 100-person delegation of the league tested positive inside the bubble which wrapped up Monday after Davao Occidental-Cocolife bagged the crown, the league official could not help but feel disappointed at the way Basilan acted when they were not allowed to enter the bubble.
"I thank God dahil walang nag-positive sa loob ng bubble,” said Duremdes. "That's the main reason why we are very strict in implementing the DOH (Department of Health) guideline. Based dun sa guideline, if one person lang tests positive inside the bubble, they will cancel the event. So, nagpapasalamat tayo kasi health concerns na ito. Itong pinag-uusapan natin ngayon, ano ba mas importante? You have to be considering the health risks and factors of each individual. Kaya ako nagpapasalamat ay dahil natapos natin yung season natin after almost one year na tumigil.”
Davao dethroned San Juan-Go for Gold with a 3-1 victory in the best of five finals series for its first title.
"Nagpapasalamat din ako na binigyan tayo ng magandang series ng Davao Occidental at San Juan,” said Duremdes. "I'm happy overall and hopefully na inspire natin ang mga frontliners at fans natin.”
Basilan was supposed to play Davao in a do-or-die match for the South division crown last March 10. But two members of its delegation tested positive for COVID-19 last March 8.
Duremdes said that by then, Basilan was supposed to be sent back to Manila as the Steel delegation travelled to Subic in one vehicle.
"Actually nung may dalawang nag-positive na sa kanila, pinapauwi na dapat sila,” Duremdes explained.
"March 9 yun. The reason is magkasama sila sa bus for three hours. According to our medical experts, considered as close contact kayo e. Automatically sabi nila, out na dapat yan. Sabi namin, wala kami magagawa kasi Department of Health and Subic Bay Management Authority na nagsabi. So nag-appeal sila for re-swabbing. After consulting with our medical team headed by Dr. Aris Cabigao, we agreed. So re-swabbing was seven days.”
San Juan and Davao waited for seven days for Basilan, which remained in a quarantine hotel in Subic.
"Imagine during those seven days, San Juan and Davao waited for them. Nung una sabi pa nila (San Juan and Davao), 'Unfair naman yan.' Pero sabi namin, maghintay tayo kasi family natin 'to. Bigyan natin sila ng chance based on the recommendations of our medical experts. So napagkasunduan na na if no one is positive, makakapasok na sila sa bubble."
Duremdes stressed that Chua and Cabiltes knew the scenarios and agreed to them.
"Clear sa kanila yun. Sabi pa nilang dalawa, 'Yes! Laban kami diyan!' Sa Zoom nila sinabi yun. They cannot deny that. Ako, itataya ko credibility ko diyan at yung lahat ng accomplishment ko sa basketball. Nandun si Emmer [Oreta] pati yung doctor natin," he stressed.
Basilan had its re-test on March 15. A day later, it yielded four positive results that resulted to Basilan's win-or-go-home game against Davao Occidental being called a no contest.
Duremdes bared the league could have waited longer even if their conditional permit from DOH would lapse on March 21. SBMA, as its principal sponsor, was willing to extend it for a few days.
The problem though is that other members of Basilan might have been infected as Duremdes bared that the league saw footage from Subic Bay Peninsular, the league's quarantine hotel, that they broke protocol.
"We have CCTV video kaya hindi nila puwede sabihin na nag-quarantine sila sa isang room, nag-isolate kami based on sa sinasabi ninyo. We have video.
"This is during the additional days of quarantine nila (March 9-15). Alam ba ng team owner nila [Hegem Furigay] yan?" wondered Duremdes.
Duremdes continued in saying that if this happened to Davao Occidental, San Juan, or Makati, they would have done the same. It did not happen to those teams because the Tigers, the Knights, and the Super Crunch-backed squad followed pre-bubble protocols.
"Kahit sabihin nila na what if sa San Juan or Davao nangyari yan. Same pa rin 'yan. Kahit ballboy pa yan magpositive. Ganun ka-strict yung bubble natin kasi ayaw ni SBMA na pumalpak siya dito," explained Duremdes.
Duremdes said the league was aware of Basilan’s issues before the start of the bubble.
Chua and Cabiltes actually told Duremdes that Furigay and team executive director Matthew David had not been in touch nor paying the salaries of Basilan since the league stopped play in March last year even with the memorandum of the league that required the four remaining teams to pay at least 20-percent of the players' salaries.
“The players wrote us na hindi na raw sila kinakausap ng Basilan,” Duremdes said. "So as commissioner, I stepped in kasi we are about to resume the league. Sabi nila (Chua and Cabiltes), walang binibigay yung team owners sa kanila. So, even me, nung kino-contact ko sila, hindi nila ako sinasagot. To the point na nagsabi na si Jax and Jerson sa akin na, 'Comm, this is our only chance. Help us.' Which I did. After that, after a couple of Zoom meetings with Jax and Jerson, wala pa rin kaming nakukuha na balita. E malapit na yung bubble pero may problems pa rin yung kanilang organization.”
Duremdes said the Basilan players were demanding for one month salary to play in the bubble.
"The management was saying they will pay 50-percent bago pumasok at the other 50 pag nakapasok na,” Duremdes said. "Ayaw pa rin pumasok ng players. Galit na galit sila. So sabi ko, tulungan natin. I tried to call Matt and Hegem pero hindi pa rin namin makausap. Nung sumagot na yung Matt, he said na, 'What will we gain? One game lang naman lalaruin namin.' Sabi ko, 'Sige, kausapin ko na si Senator (Manny Pacquiao).’
“Sabi ni Sen [Manny Pacquiao] na masisira yung bubble natin kapag hindi pumasok si Basilan dahil sa reason na ganun. So, sabi ko, mafoforfeit yung franchise niyo dahil nasa by-laws yun. Yun lang sabi ko tapos next day, nag-respond na si Hegem at si Matt na papasok na raw sila sa bubble. Kasi sabi ko, pag hindi niyo binigay yung hinihingi ng players, sasagutin ng MPBL yan para lang matuloy ito. To our surprise, the following day, nag-connect na si Hegem at Matt kay Jax at Jerson," continued Duremdes.
Duremdes doubts if Basilan was able to follow the pre-bubble protocols set by DOH which was for the players to under an RT-PCR test to make sure that they don't have the virus before heading to Subic because Furigay only approved of the team’s participation last March 5.
"So yun na nga sinasabi namin, nag-swab test or antigen ba sila bago pumunta sa Subic? Hindi ba nag-aaway pa sila nun? Nag-quarantine ba sila? Dito kitang-kita na hindi sila sumusunod sa protocol, panu pa kaya sa labas?"
Chooks-to-Go and Pacquiao tried to help out Basilan by shouldering the remaining balance of Subic Bay Peninsular which amounted to P455,535.
The Steel's management had politely declined the offer last Saturday, although the amount was already paid to the hotel.
Moreover, Basilan's ownership group had stressed that they are demanding a full refund of their expenses for the past season which Duremdes said was not possible.
"With the help of Chooks-to-Go na-partner natin, unang-una nagpapasalamat tayo sa kanila who did this from the bottom of their heart. Ayaw nga niya ma-credit dito pero we had to thank him. Pero may mali ba sa pagtulong? Tinulungan natin sila ever since," said Duremdes.
"When we consulted our legal, hindi naman nakalaro e, yun ang sabi sa akin ng ating legal na tulungan sila pero not in full. Si Basilan kasi, ang salaries kasi manggagaling kay Hegem at yung operational expenses galing sa Jumbo Plastic, as per Jax yan."
Basilan had gone to social media to express their angst towards the MPBL. They have gone as far as to question the leadership of league founder Pacquiao.
"I think it's uncalled for. Bakit? Bakit niyo pa dinadamay? Meron tayong commissioner's office na lahat ng complaints niyo nung araw, nung nangangailangan kayo ng tulong ko, dinadala niyo dun at hindi siya social media,” said Duremdes. "Sa commissioner's office kayo nagpadala ng letter nung may problema kayo sa salaries ninyo. Yun yung tamang proseso."