CEBU CITY, Philippines –Despite the tremendous success of 6-time PBA MVP Junemar Fajardo (who finished his studies at UC), the remarkable performance of JR Quiñahan (UV), the spitfire game of Quinton Brian Heruela (UC), or the clutch plays of Rey Suerte (UV), the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation Inc. (CESAFI) remains as what it is – a HUNTING GROUND for Manila schools.

The latest exodus of Cebuano players again proved that CESAFI or its predecessor, the CAAA, remained helpless from larceny by the big school leagues of Manila.

I am referring to the transfer of the University of the Visayas’ Jancork Cabahug to the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons in the UAAP and Gabriel Cometa to San Beda University Red Lions in the NCAA.

Before them, Juniors MVP LA Casinillo was reportedly walking away from Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu Magis Eagles to join the University of Santo Tomas Tiger Cubs. His transfer earned the ire of the long-time CESAFI Commissioner Felix Tiukinhoy Jr. for not asking the permission of the school first.

But what amazed me more was the quite amusing reactions of UV head coach Gary Cortes, who earlier posted a cryptic message on his Facebook wall, days before Cometa and Cabahug’s transfer were publicized.

“Ahaka, mahadlok naman hinuon ko kung naay Lancers mobisita nako sa bukid oi. Mahadlok na ko, kay tanan ni anhi nako diri, pulos nananghid nga mo transfer sa Manila,” Cortes said on his Facebook page post last July 24, 2020. (Nuts, I am now alarmed if there is a Lancers (player) who will pay me a visit here in the mountains. I am scared because all of those who came here were seeking my permissions to transfer to Manila.)

Days later, Cometa’s transfer to San Beda was published and was followed by Cabahug’s announcement of his move to UP the next day.

“Mao naman na ang normal sa UV migo. Dugay naman na nga pang hitabo. Sigi ra man og kasuko ang CESAFI pero wala may action or solution nga gi buhat, Mura ra ta diri og kusinero, kitay mo hiwa sa lamas ug subak, kitay mo luto pero lain ang mo kaon,” Cortes told iNews.Ph. (That is normal with UV my friend. There is nothing new to that. All CESAFI did was to snap. But no action or solution was ever made. We (at UV) are like cook/chef, we prepare and slice up spices and other ingredients, we cooked but when it’s done, other (people) will eat it.)

Pirating of players has always been a problem for Cebu schools since I just can’t remember when. And it has been given legal teeth by the Republic Act 10676 or the Student-Athletes Protection Act of 2015.

Let me enumerate the focal provision of the law that totally made the schools helpless when it comes to piracy of players.

The second paragraph of Section 4 provides that;

No school, or its representatives, shall be authorized to perform the following acts on a student-athlete on the sole reason for his/her transfer to another school:

(1) File an administrative charge for possible violation of school rules and regulations;

(2) Require the payment of tuition and other miscellaneous fees covered by the scholarship granted, including monies are given and the cash equivalent of non-monetary benefits received;

(3) Refuse to issue or delay the release of grades and school records, clearance, or transfer eligibility;

(4) Give incomplete grades in subjects in which the student-athlete is exempted by virtue of being a student-athlete; and

(5) Impose other forms of punishment.

That clearly stated that the school has no right to hold on to a player. Yes, it is customary for schools to grant full scholarship and the allowances to their players, but what is not considered is the “investments” that the schools have provided to the players. The investments that I am talking about here were the time and effort that the school had spent in training and refining the raw skills and talents of the players, the playing time that it gave to the players so that they would get exposures – and that is PRICELESS.

While it is true that the schools or the coaches cannot stop the players from leaving, the recruiters should also consider repaying the school, so that they will continue to be competitive.

In 2017 a local college team asked my advice after their player was recruited by a Manila team. They do not want to let go of that player because of two reasons – one, he is not yet ready for the big leagues and two, he is a vital piece to their campaign.

I told them that you cannot stop that player from leaving. Instead of getting empty-handed, you strike a deal by asking them to send a replacement from their pool as an exchange. That was done and now both parties are still in good talking terms.

I personally knew Jancork. I have been following his career since he started playing for UV as a freshman in high school. His grandparents – Kap Pocang and Mam Editha and the rest of the family are very supportive. Jancork got various offers to play in Manila since he was in Grade 10. However, he stayed with UV because of Gary Cortes. Kap Pocang made a commitment to Cortes to keep his grandson at UV.

Bigger allowance definitely is not the reason for his transfer. Money is not an issue for the Cabahugs. Jancork is one of the non-Magis Eagles player with his own car. The last time I checked, his ride was a 2018 model Toyota Fortuner. Cometa also drives his own car. So basically, money is not an issue for these boys. All they wanted were the other things that Manila teams could offer.

The TV exposures, the game experience, stronger competition, and being nearer to commercial teams in Manila are what attracted these boys from leaving Cebu.

If only CESAFI can bring back the crowd, and the TV coverage would also come back, give players more tournaments to play for more exposures and game experiences, then probably we can minimize the exodus of our players. After all, staying close to your family is a bigger motivation to play better.