MAJOR POINT: How Do We Define a Fil-Foreigner?

Eric Menk on Nov 09, 2018 06:25 AM
MAJOR POINT: How Do We Define a Fil-Foreigner?
If LPU's CJ Perez wasn't ruled by the PBA as a Fil-foreigner, would he have been suspended by the NCAA for Game 1 of the Finals?

Last week CJ Perez submitted his PBA Draft application to the PBA office, which has led to a controversial suspension from Game 1 of the NCAA Finals and a disqualification from the NCAA’s end of the year awards, which prior to his disqualification, he was in the mix for. While the suspension, disqualification and the reasons behind them have dominated the conversation in recent days, the whole reason these things have happened to the Lyceum stalwart is because he had to submit his PBA Draft application to meet a deadline, the Filipino-foreign deadline.

You see Fil-foreign players have to submit their draft application before local players have to submit their applications because the PBA office has to have time to review all the Fil-foreigner’s documents to make sure they are eligible for the PBA Draft. So, in meeting that deadline and by not notifying the NCAA in writing that he was entering the PBA Draft, CJ Perez got himself into trouble with the NCAA.

When the news broke about CJ Perez’s PBA Draft application, many people, including myself, were surprised to find out that CJ Perez was considered by PBA rules, to be a Fil-Foreigner. From what I understand, Perez grew up in Pangasinan and only came to Manila to try out for collegiate basketball teams when he was a teenager. However, because he has a foreign parent and was born in Hong Kong, the PBA considers him a Fil-foreigner. So Perez, along with other Fil-foreign aspirants had to submit his application by the October 29 deadline, while local aspirants have until December 3 to submit their PBA Draft application. Would Perez have missed out on Game 1 of the NCAA Finals and the NCAA awards this year if the PBA considered him a local? Seeing how his draft application wouldn’t be submitted yet, probably not.

So if CJ Perez is a Fil-Foreigner, it got me thinking as to what exactly defines a player to be categorized as a Fil-foreigner, according to the PBA? It’s not as easy to explain as it used to be. When I came into the league, most Fil-Am or Fil-foreign PBA players fit a certain stereotype. One parent was Filipino, the other parent was American. The player grew up in the United States and played high school and college basketball in the United States. That’s what I think most people envisioned a Fil-Am to be. There were numerous examples of that, but there were also players with two Filipino parents that had grown up in the United States.

While no rules had been thought out for Fil-Am players, the PBA kept it simple by stating that if a player was a Philippine citizen, they would be allowed to play in the PBA.

However, there were tiers to that blanket statement. If a player was considered a Philippine citizen by the Bureau of Immigration, that wasn’t enough for the PBA. If a player had a Philippine passport, that wasn’t enough for the PBA. Players had to have my Philippine citizenship confirmed by the Department of Justice to be eligible to play in the PBA. Which brings me back to CJ Perez. Does that rule still apply? I don’t know. Does CJ Perez have his citizenship confirmed by the DOJ? I don’t know. That would seem like overkill to me, but according to the PBA he is a Fil-foreigner.

Things got a little more complicated in the early 2000s when the PBA implemented the five Fil-foreign players per team rule. There were even two PBA franchises that wouldn’t hire a Fil-foreign player for a few years. Remember the “Team Homegrown” franchises, FedEx and Sta. Lucia? Because of this rule and the “Team Homegrown” franchises, now players had to be clearly defined as a local or a Fil-foreigner. So what exactly defined a Fil-foreigner? Up until a couple of days ago, I thought it was completely based on where a player was born. But then I heard that there are exceptions to that rule. There are a couple of players playing in the PBA as locals that were born in the United States. Even when I thought place of birth as the end all be all rule, it never completely made sense to me.

If a player has two Filipino parents, but they are born in the United States, they are considered Fil-foreign, most of the time now apparently. If a player has one foreign parent and one Filipino parent, but is born here in the Philippines, he is considered a local. That already seems a little weird to me, but then there are some hypothetical situations that could become real, where further thought is required.

A local former teammate of mine purposely had their child born in the United States, so their child could benefit from United States citizenship. Would the PBA consider that child Fil-foreign? I had a teammate late in my career, where his dad and uncle played in the PBA, but my teammate had grown up in the States. He came back to play collegiately in the local NCAA, but the PBA considered him a Fil-foreigner because he was born in the United States. His dad was a local, but he wasn’t. I have PBA friends who have sons and one was born here and one was born in the US. How would that work? If they both made the PBA would the PBA really consider one Fil-foreign and one a local, even though they have the same parents? What about players with one or two Asian or Chinese parent or parents? Do the Fil-foreign rules apply to them too? Because it doesn’t seem like it. I’ve heard through the years, depending on who the commissioner is, the Fil-foreign rules have been tweaked unannounced to the public. The Fil-foreign rules are foggy at best and probably should be re-examined.

It’s to the point now where in the PBA world, nobody wants to be a Fil-foreigner. Why would they want to be a Fil-foreigner? A Fil-foreigner has to get their draft application in before locals do. There are less roster spots for Fil-foreigners. If a player comes from abroad, the player has to serve a residency year. A Fil-foreign player has to play a year in the PBA D-League, before they can play in the PBA. Being a Fil-foreigner, these rules are mind-numbing to me and hard to understand. To be clear, while all are citizens of this country, there are a different set of rules for those the PBA labels as a Fil-foreigner. And those rules do NOT favor a player labeled Fil-Foreign.

This subject hits home for me because I had to sit out 18 months of the prime of my career trying to sort out my paperwork and obtain my DOJ conformation. People still call me a Fil-Sham if they don’t like what I say on my podcast, Staying MAJOR or on Twitter. Ginebra used the 5 Fil-foreign player per team rule to cut me in 2012, when they drafted Chris Ellis and Chris Jensen to put them over the limit with my contract up.

So when something like this CJ Perez case comes up, it gets my attention. It is likely that CJ Perez and Ray Parks will be two of the top three picks in this years PBA Draft. One is labeled a Fil-foreign player and one is labeled a local player. Two weeks ago if you had to guess which was which, who would you have guessed as the local? Fil-foreign? Why are they labeled as different? Shouldn’t they be the same? Marc Pingris, Willie Miller & Jason Castro all have a foreign parent, just like CJ Perez. But, the PBA has labeled them as different because CJ wasn’t born in the Philippines. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me.

The PBA is a commercial league and they govern themselves. They can make up whatever rules they want to. The Fil-foreign rules are complicated, maybe too complicated. I don’t have all the answers. Maybe my hypothetical scenarios will never happen. Maybe a couple more cases like CJ Perez’s and the PBA will rethink these rules and labels. It would be nice to see a proactive solution before another not so bizarre case like this happens again. Most people have some kind of foreign blood running through their veins anyways. Nobody is pure anything really. Being Filipino, having Filipino blood and having Filipino citizenship, that is important, not where you were born. I’m for having one set of rules for players of the PBA and Philippine citizens to follow. Would that be so outrageous? What would be wrong with that? Unfortunately, for CJ Perez that isn’t the case right now. But, because of his case, maybe we can be hopeful for a better future.

Eric Menk played in the PBA from 1999 to 2016. Menk is a four-time PBA champion, three-time PBA Finals MVP and one-time PBA MVP (2005). He currently writes for ABS-CBN Sports weekly. Menk also has his podcast Staying MAJOR as welll as his own YouTube channel .

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