GERRY Esplana has been around for so long you'd think he has seen everything there is to see in Philippine basketball.
But scenes he witnessed as coach both in the NCAA and the MPBL still surprised him.
Appearing on The Link Podcast, the former PBA Rookie of the Year made stunning revelations about game-fixing - or signs of it - which Esplana said he experienced as coach of Emilio Aguinaldo College in the NCAA and Valenzuela in the MPBL.
As coach of the EAC Generals a few years back, Esplana, who had a long PBA career with Presto, Shell and Sta. Lucia, said he discovered that one of the foreign student athletes in his team was involved in fixing games.
“Pinapuntahan ko yan, totoo nga,” Esplana said. “Kaya sinabi namin sa management. Nag-meeting kami ng mga assistant coaches and then we were told by the management, kami na ang bahala.”
The former PBA guard said that episode didn't prepare him for what he was about to witness in the MPBL, where he had a short-lived stint as coach of his hometown Valenzuela Classic.
Esplana said two types of players fall foul in the regional league founded by boxing great and senator Manny Pacquiao.
“Dyan nagbi-breed ang mga game-fixers. Alam mo kung bakit? Yung galing taas, sa pro, na bumaba at may edad na, kahit anong galing niyan, hindi na makakabalik yan. Kung mga 34, 35 na yan, kukunin pa ba yan? Hindi na," he said.
"Sinasabi ko ito in general ha. Yung player na ganyan, kahit na mag-MVP ka or best player ka or magcha-champion ka, hindi ka na makakabalik ng pro. Tapos hindi rin naman ganun kataas ang allowance dito sa MPBL.
"Sabihin natin, P80, 70, 60 thousand (a month). Depende pa sa team. Ngayon ang nangyayari, ito na lang MPBL ang ginagawa nilang ‘sideline’. Bukod sa may contract sila, may iba pa silang side contract.
“Yung ibang amateur naman na hindi nakapag-PBA, pero nagpa-draft at hindi na-draft, MPBL rin sila. Ganun rin sila, eto na lang.”
Esplana said he believes in the goal of Pacquiao's league to serve as a launch pad for aspiring players, saying a lot of young ballers benefited from it.
“Ang natutulungan talaga dyan yung mga galing grassroots, mga bagong tuklas. Yun pupuwede. Talagang nagpupursige yan, kasi aakyat ng PBA yan. Or, yung mga natanggal sa PBA na bata-bata pa na pwede pang makabalik, kunyari mga naka two years lang at edad niya mga 26, 27, puwede pang makabalik. Makikita mo yung mga yun, pukpok na pukpok yun,” said Esplana.
“Dito lang ako sa MPBL nagulat eh. Yung sentiment ni Senator Manny (Pacquiao) talagang kasama rin ako dyan eh. Grabe ang game-fixing dyan.”
But Esplana said there are players who have turned it into another form of 'livelihood,' alluding to game-fixing.
“Hanapbuhay na lang talaga sa kanila eh. May mga nagsasabi ngang players, ‘O, bigay ito.’ Biruin mo sasabihn mo sa dugout. Hindi man lang kayo maging discreet ha. Talagang obvious na obvious. Sa amin yung mga lumipat na players from Valenzuela, sinasabi rin sa akin yung tungkol sa game-fixing,” he said.
Worse, some teams are in on the racket, too, Esplana said, and the sudden expansion from 10 teams to 31 by Season 3 made it very hard for the MPBL to police its ranks.
“Actually, minsan, management eh. Napakadaming teams kasi. Yun ang mahirap. Tapos hindi mo naman machi-check yung personality ng team owner, team manager. Yung pang-sweldo nila, doon nila hahanapin sa sugal. Sobra ang game-fixing sa MPBL,” added Esplana.