RUMOR: Barako Bull's PBA team is in truth owned by San Miguel Corporation.
FACTS: Team owners, coaches and league insiders have been openly talking about it for months now, the rumor taking on a life of its own after a couple of trades between Barako and Petron which were deemed too one-sided in favor of the San Miguel-owned club. A number of other dubious trades fed the suspicion that Barako was acting as a convenient conduit in trades involving Petron and the two other teams under the San Miguel umbrella, B-Meg and Ginebra – a role it couldn’t have fulfilled had it been a ‘declared’ member of the SMC family, rivals claimed (league rules prohibit direct trades between sister ballclubs).
San Miguel’s Robert Non, however, was quick to dismiss the rumor as nothing more than a dead issue that had already been addressed in the PBA board. “It’s not true, definitely not true,” said Non, Ginebra’s alternate governor. "Matagal na ang rumor na ‘yan. Even before the (season) opening, it was already stressed in the board [that it was not true].”
On the record, Barako Bull, formerly known as Air21, is co-owned by Bert Lina and George Chua. Chua owns 51 percent of the franchise and Lina 49%, and Barako team manager Raffy Casyao insists he has neither seen nor heard anything to think that the ownership has changed hands. “We’re the majority owners, that’s why we’re managing the team,” said Casyao, who has been working for Chua for more than a decade.
That was validated by Barako coach Junel Baculi, who swore that he reports directly to Chua and not to some SMC executive. “Si Boss George ang kausap ko rito,” he said. “We’re always meeting with them about the players’ composition and the direction of the team.”
But the rumor simply refuses to die down, fed no doubt by the outrage from rival teams over the controversial seven-man trade last year that sent senior Petron players Danny Seigle, Dorian Pena, Dondon Hontiveros, and Paul Artadi to Barako Bull in exchange for the top three picks in the 2010 Draft – Noy Baclao, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Rey Guevarra.
Two of those players, Hontiveros and Pena, have since found their way back to Petron along with the No. 3 pick in this year’s talent-rich rookie draft which the Blazers used to acquire Chris Lutz.
One rival coach claimed that the way most trades go down these days in favor of San Miguel-owned teams, it is not entirely a stretch to say that SMC “owns not just three but five-and-a-half teams in the league.’’
But Non insisted all those trades were legitimate, otherwise ‘‘the commissioner will not approve it’’ – a stand echoed by Casyao.
“Lahat ng trades dumadaan sa Commissioner’s Office,” said the Barako Bull executive. “Ngayon nga it’s even difficult, if you would notice, there are a lot of concessions [needed] before the commissioner can approve of it.”
To Commissioner Chito Salud’s credit, he has tightened the rules on trades since he assumed office and never hesitates to strike down any deal he deemed unfair. Salud said he sees nothing wrong with San Miguel teams doing trades with Barako – so long as the deals “are fair and legitimate.”
Of late, it was learned that the Barako Bull team’s bottled water supply is being supplied by San Miguel while the players’ salaries are drawn from a bank also under the SMC umbrella, once again fanning the suspicions.
Salud said business dealings among member teams outside of basketball are common, especially since most of them are among the biggest corporations in the country. “SMC can deal with a lot of corporations in the same way Barako Bull deals with other corporations in and out of the league,” said Salud. “But commercial transactions are business in nature, so I don’t see how basketball can be connected to it.”
Salud said that amid all the rumors, no one has brought up the issue with him personally. Not one team owner, coach, team official or a player.
If someone does plan to take up the issue with him, Salud, who is by the way a lawyer, said he better come up with something more than just loose talk.
The burden of proof should be on the accuser, he added.
“Definitely, whoever they are, they have to show me concrete proof to verify the matter, because these (papers showing that Chua and Lina own the Barako Bull franchise) are well-documented,” he said.