Reinforced by professional boxer and Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) playing coach Senator Manny Pacquiao, the Senate Defenders team has set its eyes on the championship of the fifth season UNTV Cup basketball league which opens at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on August 29.
Two other cager-politicians, Senators Sonny Angara and Joel Villanueva will join Pacquiao in the Senate Defenders as team captain and co-captain respectively.
“We see our Big Three, namely Pacquiao, Angara and Villanueva carrying the load of the Defenders all the way to the championship,” said Assistant Coach Rodel Dascil, who will be manning the Senate bench with head coach Mike Fermin, a member of the coaching staff of the Philippine Mighty Sports which won the 38th William Jones Cup last July.
“I am excited to play side by side with Senators Angara and Villanueva and our goal is to get the UNTV Cup championship,” said Pacquiao who has been practicing with the team twice a week for over a month now.
Team Skipper Angara, who played for the University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons during his college days, said it was not difficult for Pacquiao to adjust to the Defenders brand of play. “Manny easily caught up with our play because he is a natural basketball player,” said Angara.
Angara said he elated to play alongside Villanueva, a former standout of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers and a member of RP Youth cage team that saw action in the South East Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) in 1990.
“If you recall, Joel Villanueva was the hotshot of the Malacanang Patriots that defeated us,” Angara said. “The entire team is looking forward to playing a good season with Manny and Joel.”
Villanueva, for his part, said he was thrilled to be a teammate of Pacquiao. “We are very excited this season especially since we have a Manny Pacquiao in our lineup,” he said.
Senators Bam Aquino and Win Gatchalian are listed as players of the team while Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto is the playing team manager. Pacquiao is currently the playing-coach of the Mahindra Enforcers team in the PBA.
The Senate Defenders will be up against 12 other teams in the UNTV Cup, namely the defending champions AFP Cavaliers, PNP Responders, MMDA Blackwolves, NHA Builders, BFP Firefighters, Judiciary Magis, Malacanang Kamao, GSIS Furies, HOR Solons, DOJ Justice Boosters, Ombudsman Graftbusters and the BOC Transformers.
This season, the Senate Defenders lineup will also be augmented by former players from the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). “In terms of ceiling, we are bigger. Agility-wise, we have improved,” Dascil said.
Among the team’s new acquisition are Harley Ng (6’1”), a standout of the Mapua Cardinals in 2005;; Rommel Balboa (6’4”) who played for the University of Perpetual Help Rizal along with amateur cage league standouts Ervic Bacsal (6’3”) and returning player Ryan Neil Endaya.
The other members of the team are Ronald Golding, Christian Andaya, Joe Andrew Garcia, Samuel Marata, Marlon Legaspi, Reynaldo Malaga, Emmanuel Baltazar, Warren Tan and Simon Valencia.
Beneficiaries of the Senate team are the Kythe Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO) helping hospitalized children with cancer and other chronic illness, the Bahay Pangarap Foundation for street children in Pasay City and Share an Opportunity Philippines, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.