THE moment Patrick Cabahug set foot in Manila with his current Asean Basketball League (ABL) team Malaysia Dragons for a road match against Tanduay Alab Pilipinas, the first order of business was to enjoy a Jolibee chicken joy meal.
“Ang sarap ng Jollibee,” said the 32-year old smiling.
His excitement was understandable. The basketball journeyman has long craved the chicken meal of the popular Filipino-owned fastfood chain, having spent the last three Christmases in Thailand.
Cabahug is one of millions of Filipinos who have gone overseas in search of a better life. Like most of the basketball players who decided to play abroad, Cabahug said the absence of opportunities back home prompted the move.
The former Adamson Falcon has been playing internationally since 2011, starting out with the Westports Malaysia Dragons in the ABL. Cabahug has made Thailand his home the past three years, having played for Hi-Tech when the team won the ABL crown in 2014, and for Mono Thew in the local professional league.
It was his decision not go home to the Philippines for the past three Christmases.
“Parang desisyon ko rin ‘yun na after ng TBSL at TBL (Thailand local pro league), ginagawa ko na lang, naglalaro ako ng basketball tapos suma-sideline ako kesa uuwi ako ng Pilipinas na wala rin kikitain. Sacrifice muna,” said Cabahug, who played for the Falcons from 2003 to 2008.
It is work that keeps Cabahug from being homesick during that time. His 'sidelines' in Bangkok included coaching in the many basketball camps held in international schools and playing in leagues outside Thailand as a 'hugot.'
Just last year, Cabahug played in the Walikota Cup in Surabaya and the Elang Cup in Medan, Indonesia. He was also named Finals MVP when he exploded for 64 points in the Fladeo Cup, prompting local fans to christen him the ‘Pinoy Sniper.’
“Buhay ko sa Thailand, parang puro work lang. Ang practice kasi namin sa Mono Thew, 7 p.m., so nagsa-sideline ako, turo ng basketball sa mga bata sa hapon. Ginagawa ko ‘yun mostly everyday. Ang pahinga ko Monday lang dahil Saturday at Sunday, may game,” said Cabahug.
"Sarap naman na puro trabaho compared sa walang ginagawa."
Having played in different countries, Cabahug said he believes Thailand and Indonesia are inching closer to the Philippines in the fight for basketball supremacy in Southeast Asia.
“Sa tingin ko, sa lahat ng napuntahan ko, ang humahabol sa Pilipinas, Indonesia at Thailand, kasi may liga sila na parang PBA na four-month league. Compare mo sa ibang bansa, Malaysia nag-start pa lang, ‘yung Vietnam, start pa lang. Lamang talaga Indonesia at Thailand dahil sa mga liga nila,” he said.
Despite staying in Thailand for years, Cabahug still struggles to learn the language (he rates himself at 2 in terms of fluency with the Thai language), and is even better speaking Malay. He resorts to simple English and gestures when speaking to teammates.
During the offseason, he keeps himself in shape by playing with fellow OFWs who give him a better perspective on living and working overseas.
“Kapag walang basketball, ginagawa namin, may grupo kami na mga teachers sa school, basketball after work three times a week. Nakaka-meet ka ng mga tao, iba’t-ibang buhay. Masarap din pakinggan. Hindi puro basketball lang.”
The 6-1 forward currently plays for the Dragons, but he expects to be back in Thailand after the ABL season. He counts himself lucky to be playing for team owners who treat him well.
“Sobrang bait nila. Parang inaalagaan talaga kami as a player. Wala akong masabi. Pati din dito sa Malaysia, sobrang bait,” said Cabahug.
‘Pilipinas pa rin’
The Cebuano winger extended his stay in Manila as he waited for his Chinese visa that allowed him to travel with his team to Nanhai, where the Dragons played the Chong Son Kung Fu later in the week. He made the most of the opportunity.
He was surprised last week to see light traffic along the dreaded Edsa, evoking memories of his time in Manila.
“Nung nakita ko ‘yung Edsa, sarap ng feeling. Ten years ako sa Manila nag-stay. Sarap ng feeling na makita ‘yung Edsa, ‘yung Megamall. Sarap ng feeling na parang ang sarap umuwi sa Pilipinas talaga compared sa ibang bansa,” said Cabahug.
Even though he is entering his seventh year playing overseas, Cabahug, who went undrafted in the 2008 PBA Rookie Draft, said he still longs to play in the local pro league.
“Sobra,” said Cabahug. "Parang gusto ko bumalik sa PBA kaya lang mahirap pasukin. Iniisip ko na lang as a player, kung saan man ako, ibibigay ko lahat. Kung may makakita sa akin, mas maganda. More on kung saan akong team naglaro, binibigay ko ‘yung kaya ko.”
For players like him who are left displaced by the lack of opportunities in the PBA, Cabahug said he recommends Thailand an option to pursue a basketball career.
“Sobrang loaded na sa PBA. Super sikip na. ‘Yung Thailand, isa siya sa mga kailangan puntahan ng mga Filipino player kasi ‘yung laro doon, parang PBA na rin, at saka may dalawang Asean imports, dalawang American imports. Kailangan lang nila magpakita,” said Cabahug.
”Pero Pilipinas pa rin. Pag may opportunity talaga, gusto ko bumalik,” he added.