THE stage has just been set for Andray Blatche’s stint with Gilas Pilipinas in two major tournaments overseas late this year.
On Monday, the Senate approved on third and final reading the bill conferring Philippine citizenship on the Brooklyn Nets center, in effect clearing the way for him to play for the national team in the FIBA-World Cup in Spain this August and the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea in September.
Senator Juan Edgardo `Sonny’ Angara, who authored the bill, said the documents will now be transmitted to the Office of the President for signing.
“Blatche is possibly the best center from the NBA that we can get who is willing to shun more lucrative offers now and in the future just to be part of our national team," stressed Angara, who expressed gratitude particularly to Senate Justice Committee chair Aquilino `Koko’ Pimentel III and Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano for the swift passage of Senate Bill 2108.
"This was indeed a total team effort on the part of the Senate. Credits are due to both the majority and minority blocs for supporting this measure, which to my mind, is the Senate's own way of contributing to the cause of our basketball team," he pointed out, while also mentioning the help provided by Senate President Franklin Drilon, and Senators Tito Sotto and Jinggoy Estrada.
Senate Bill 2108 supplement a version that has long been approved at the House of Representatives.
Following the Senate approval, proponents of the bill are confident Blatche will get his Filipino citizenship in time to beef up Gilas in the Fiba World Cup and the Asiad, respectively.
“Kaya nating habulin 'yung deadline (na June 15). In fact, mukhang in the next few days, okay na yan,” said Sen. Antonio Trillanes of the bill, which was the fifth item to be discussed in the plenary on Monday.
“Suportado naman natin 'yan (Senate Bill). As long as yan ang hinihiling ng tao, we will support it. Wala kaming nakikitang problema para hindi natin suportahan 'yan,” said Trillanes, a member of the Senate committee on sports and recreation.
Blatche's papers however, need to be signed before May 31 for him to be issued a passport and his name be included as part of Gilas Plipinas in the Asiad.
Antipolo City Rep. Robbie Puno, the proponent of the Congress version of the bill, is happy to hear that his counterparts in the Senate have approved the bill.
“Nagkaroon sila ng period of debate and interpellation last week. Natapos na 'yun, wala namang nag-oppose, so we’re happy na okay na siya (bill),” said Puno.
For podcast on interview with Rep. Robbie Puno, click HERE
If there is one final hitch, it is the need to reconcile the two versions of the bill, Puno said. But he assured that such a process won't take as long as a day.
“Ang law kasi kailangan pag pumasa sa Senate at House dapat walang pagkakaiba yung version nung dalawa. Kasi kapag hindi magkapareho, i-co-consolidate na naman through a bicameral conference committee … tatagal na naman,” said Puno.
“Nagkaroon ng difference, 'yung version ko kasi sa House the bill will become law 15 days after publication,” explained the sportsman/lawmaker. “Yung sa kanila, tinanggal nila yung 15 days publication (so) it becomes immediate.
“Maganda pa nga 'yun for our timetable. Bakit nila ginawa 'yun, kasi they took two weeks to finish the bill. So para maiwasan ang bicameral committee, ang gagawin namin sa House, we will adopt their version (immediate publication). Madaling problema lang 'yan. Siguro added one day lang 'yan.”
Reyes hopes to have Blatche available in the final week of July. But for that to happen, Blatche's naturalization papers should be on the desk of President Aquino by the first week of June so his naturalization could lapse into law even without the Chief Executive's signature.
However, Puno, a former PBA head of marketing, bared that the President is "willing to sign" Blatche's papers.
“What I am told is the President is willing to sign. So that’s another good break for us. Kaya makakatipid pa tayo ng ilang araw dahil mas mabilis 'yung sa Senate wala nang 15 days after publication, nakatipid tayo ng ilang araw,” he added.
Meanwhile, Spin.ph also learned that Blatche is set to arrive in the country in the first week of June to personally take his oath as a naturalized Filipino.
With the date approval of the bill fast-tracked, Puno is optimistic the 6-11 American slotman who averaged 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in his last NBA stint, could be able to join Gilas Pilipinas in its Miami training camp next month, just enough to jell the team ahead of the July 11-19 Fiba Asia Cup in Wuhan, China.
“Yes, I believe he can already join and play for the team. Remember ang target date natin as deadline is June 15. Anong araw pa lang ngayon?” said Puno.
Angara is likewise optimistis Blatche will be of big help in the Philippines' first ever stint in the world basketball championship in 36 years in the same way another naturalized player in Marcus Douthit proved to be a big value for Gilas Pilipinas during its campaing in last year's FIBA-Asia Men's Championship here.
"Given this rare opportunity (of competing in the World Cup), we should do everything we can to give our national team the best representation and the best chance to win," said Angara.