The probe on University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) alleged health lockdown violation continues to drag on with still no resolution reached on Thursday, but the school’s sports officials and athletes are hoping that whatever sanction falls on its erring basketball squad won’t cascade down to the rest of a program that has dominated the UAAP over the last three-and-a-half decades.
The UAAP Board of Managing Directors (BMD) convened on Thursday to discuss the UST training “bubble” in Sorsogon, which violated health protocols imposed by the national government to curb the coronavirus pandemic and submitted its findings to the powerful Board of Trustees (BOT) but declined to comment further.
“Following a lengthy discussion, the UAAP BMD drafted its recommendations, which will be submitted to the UAAP Board of Trustees for review and approval,” the group said in a statement forwarded to media outlets late Thursday evening. “The UAAP understands the gravity of the matter as it concerns the safety and well-being of student-athletes of a member-school.”
“Out of respect to the member-school concerned and the decision-making process of the BOT, recommendations of the BMD cannot be made public at the moment,” the statement added.
The lack of a resolution heightened the anxiety already experienced by a school that has won the UAAP overall championship 29 times in the last 33 seasons, especially against the backdrop of a reported exodus that includes coach Aldin Ayo, who reports have said could be sanctioned by the UAAP.
If Ayo is sanctioned and leaves UST, any cascading punishment will be shouldered by a program that had nothing to do with the bubble.
“I don’t think a heavy-handed sanctions should be imposed,” Manny Calipes, a national coach who also handles the men’s, women’s and athletics teams of UST, told the Inquirer on Thursday. “Is it not enough that we’ve been in quarantine for six months?”
But the anxiety is felt most by the student-athletes.
“No games would mean no scholarship benefit for us,” an athlete told the Inquirer on the condition of anonymity. “For others, no scholarship would mean a transfer since not everyone could easily afford [studying in] UST.”
The athlete is not alone.
“For sure, there’s anxiety within the UST community—especially among the [student-athletes],” women’s volleyball coach Kungfu Reyes said.
“I’m just concerned about the welfare of the student-athletes and coaches.”
Calipes is also concerned that the vaunted athletics program, which has produced national team mainstays like Olympian pole vaulter EJ Obiena and Southeast Asian Games delegates Eloisa Luzon, Sarah Dequinan and Aira Teodosio.
“[Sanctioning other programs] will also delay the development of potential talents for the national team,” added Calipes, who noted that Aldee Denuyo also represented the country in rugby.
While there has been no word if UST would indeed get punished as a whole, just like La Salle in 2006 when its men’s basketball team was found to have fielded ineligible players, reports have said that there is a recommendation to sanction Ayo. But Ayo is reportedly on the way out of UST, along with key players Rhenz Abando, Ira Bataller and Brent Paraiso. Bataller and Paraiso are reportedly headed to Letran along with Abando, who is expected to make an announcement on Friday, a source close to the player told the Inquirer.
Still, there are those holding on to the hope that whether or not UST will be suspended, the school will keep its program running.
“In good faith, I don’t think the [sports] program will be stopped,” Reyes said.
“Faithful to her promises, UST has been the light in the lives of our athletes, teachers, coaches, employees and students in this trying time full of darkness,” women’s basketball team coach Haydee Ong said.
Outside the walls of UST, the government probe on the alleged violations of health protocols imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic has created a different kind of a chilling effect: Sports personalities get rattled with every claim of potential lockdown breach.
Joven Jimenez, trainer and manager of boxing star Jerwin Ancajas, is shutting down updates on the world champion’s public accounts. University of the Philippines coach Bo Perasol is opening his door to any probe regarding a shooting practice by big man Bright Akhuetie.
Both were in reaction to being called out for alleged violations. Ancajas’ social media posts showed him in training. Perasol, meanwhile, was reacting to photos and video clips showing Akhuetie doing shooting drills with him.
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