Pacquiao firm on barring foreigners from his Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League

Manny Pacquiao at the opening of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League. Photo via ABS-CBN.

No foreigners, and only one half-Filipino player in each team.

This was reiterated yesterday by the owner of the fledgling Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL), boxer-cum-senator Manny Pacquiao.

The multi-tasking Pacquiao was present at the opening of the MPBL’s 2018 season earlier this week, in spite of the fact that he’s also busy training for his upcoming fight against Argentinian Lucas Matthysse on July 15.

For those who are unaware, the MPBL was established by Pacquiao in August last year. It’s a regional men’s basketball league that’s quite similar to the National Basketball Association (NBA) — its various teams represent different cities and provinces all over the country.

It’s so similar to the NBA that its 18-karat gold trophy, worth PHP10 million (US$188,317) looks like a replica of the NBA’s Larry O’Brien trophy (copying it was Pacquiao’s idea).

It competes against the older league, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Pacquiao, believe it or not, played and coached a team in the PBA called Kia Picanto from 2014 to 2017.

The MPBL started with only 10 teams but it became so hot that this year, it now has 26.

Despite its success, however, it has become a lightning rod for controversy. Consider the MPBL’s blanket ban on foreign players, or “imports.”

In contrast, the PBA’s teams are allowed to hire imports for some conferences and does not limit the hiring of half-Filipino players who are, in some respects, taller than their full-Filipino counterparts.

The MPBL does not hire any half-Filipinos taller than 6’4″, and it has a quota of only one half-Filipino per team.

These somewhat racist rules bring us back to Pacquiao.

In an interview with during the opening of the MPBL’s new season yesterday, the senator said: “We can’t have imports because they put Filipinos at a disadvantage. The PBA used to be strong when everyone was a Filipino. It became weak when imports arrived.”

MPBL’s commissioner (and former PBA player) Kenneth Duremdes agrees with his boss.

Speaking about half-Filipino players, he told ABS-CBN in Filipino and English: “Our players from the provinces are not very tall. We have to do this step-by-step because we’re striving to be a place for homegrown players.”

One of those protesting against the MPBL’s rules is Bobby Ray Parks Jr., a multi-awarded basketball player who holds Filipino citizenship but whose father is American.

He tweeted last month in English and Filipino: “This is the first time in my life [that] I was considered an America[n] in my own home country smh. I grew up here. I have a Filipino passport. So because of the color of my skin, and because my father is American I am considered a foreigner in my own country?”

But for Pacquiao, it’s all about leveling the playing field and developing undiscovered talents.

Pacquiao said this himself: “A lot of people now have the chance to play because of MPBL. Actually, the country is running out of players because of it.”

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