The Philippines’ long-awaited campaign in the Spain FIBA Basketball World Cup got a boost on Wednesday with the House of Representatives swiftly approving the grant of Filipino citizenship to a National Basketball Association (NBA) player to boost the Smart Gilas Pilipinas lineup.
The House approved on second reading House Bill 4084 which grants Filipino citizenship to six-foot-11 Andray Blatche—
an eight-year NBA veteran who is the center for the Brooklyn Nets—late Wednesday night.
HB 4084, authored by Deputy Speaker Robbie Puno of Antipolo, was approved in the plenary in less than eight hours after the House Justice panel approved it on Wednesday noon.
“The general sentiment is to grant him the Filipino citizenship because we need him in our team. Our national pride is at stake,” Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list, a member of the House Justice panel, said in an interview after the committee approval.
The 28-year-old Blatche has averaged 9.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in his eight years in the NBA.
Smart Gilas Pilipinas wants Blatche in its lineup accordance with the FIBA ruling that allows national teams to include one naturalized player in their lineup.
For the first time in 35 years, the Philippines will compete in the FIBA Basketball World Cup after it bagged the silver medal in the 27th FIBA Asia Championships in Manila last August.
The Filipinos won, 86-79, over longtime nemesis South Korea in the semifinals.
At the FIBA Asia Championships, the Smart Gilas Pilipinas had a naturalized player in its lineup, the six-foot-9 Marcus Douthit.
The Philippines’ second-place finish in FIBA Asia made the Philippines one of the 16 top basketball teams in the world.
Other qualifiers in Asia were 2013 FIBA Asia gold medalist Iran and bronze medalist South Korea.
In a separate talk, House Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list noted that nationalism cannot be limited to bloodline.
“We have done it with Douthit, and we have seen good results. We’re already here in the World Championships. It is public interest that we perform well in Spain because it will put our country in the World Basketball map. When that happens, a myriad of things can happen to our country like influx of tourists and investors,” Tugna said.
In his explanatory note, Puno underscored that Congress needs to naturalize at least two players to avoid jeopardizing the entire basketball program in the event of an injury to any one of our naturalized players.
“We need to reinforce its strength so we can be assured of a solid fighting chance in the FIBA World Cup. We can only accomplish this goal by doing what other countries have long done—naturalizing athletes that would prove to be great assets to their teams,” Puno said.
Puno cited that naturalization of foreign players have been good for the Philippines, considering that those who underwent the process brought honor and pride to the country such as: swimmers Akiko Thompson (two time Southeast Asian Games medalist and three-time Olympian) and Christine Jacob Sandejas (bemedalled athlete in the Southeast Asian Games and one-time Olympian).
Puno said a handful of top basketball teams in the world have resorted to naturalization such as world number 2 Spain, Jordan, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, Qatar, Lebanon and Russia.
LLANESCA T. PANTI