TWO months since the dissolution of what was once a promising University of Santo Tomas core, beleaguered coach Aldin Ayo didn't deny that he was saddened with how things turned out for his team in the fallout of the controversial Bicol bubble.
"It was very unfortunate for us," the decorated mentor told Radyo5's Power and Play with Noli Eala on Saturday.
"Binuo namin yung team na yun and we sacrificed a lot, maraming nag-invest sa mga players. Pero things happened eh. Wala ka namang masisisi."
The Sorsogon sojourn basically tore into shreds that Growling Tigers squad which made an inspiring run to the UAAP Season 82 Finals, where they finished as runner-up to Ateneo.
It also triggered an exodus of players from España, with eight players packing their bags and transferring to rival schools.
Erstwhile team captain CJ Cansino was the first out, going to University of the Philippines where he was soon followed by incoming rookie Bismarck Lina.
Seldom-used Jun Asuncion followed suit in going to Mapua. Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso, and Ira Bataller stayed with the Dominicans and transferred to Letran, while Mark Nonoy and Deo Cuajao went to La Salle.
But the consequences were more dire up top, with Fr. Jannel Abogado, OP stepping down from his post as the director of the school's Institute of Physical Education and Athletics (IPEA).
Ayo soon tendered his resignation and was slapped with an indefinite ban by the UAAP, a penalty that he is appealing.
The Sorsogon-born mentor stuck to his statements in relation to the controversy, saying that the "special personal development farm training program" was purely voluntary and was indeed not sanctioned by the school. It also wasn't intended to be a training camp of sorts for the Growling Tigers, especially with the quarantine guidelines the government has put in place in combatting the global COVID-19 pandemic.
"We did not go there as a team. I have 28 to 30 players sa UST and 17 lang yung pumunta and voluntary lang yun. The objective was farming cause during that time, I was thinking kung ano ang maitutulong sa mga bata," he said.
"It was that time na walang nagiisip na magkakaroon ng school year and di namin alam kung anong mangyayari. And I was just too concerned sa mga players, lalo na sa mga hirap kung paano ko sila matulungan, at naisip ko na kung gusto niyo na magtrabaho kayo dito, why not? Yung mga may kaya, matututo kayo para once matapos yung basketball careers niyo, they can have their own business. I told them that, kasi hindi naman habang buhay ang basketball, so pag natapos na ito, you have to invest."
Ayo also said that the activity had clearance from all fronts in the government and made sure that they were not violating any of the rules put in place, boosting his argument in his submitted appeal to the UAAP.
"Lahat naman sinunod namin. Di naman ganoon kabilis kumuha ng papel. Pero lahat kami nag-comply. Aware ako sa protocols ng national government, so we made sure lahat nagawa namin ng tama," he said. "I'm confident because wala akong nilabag na any violation. Kita nila yun sa appeal ko and grateful ako sa endorsement ng UST sa appeal ko."
It truly was a painful experience for Ayo, who didn't just see his handiwork go down in shambles but also saw him cost his job and a bit of his reputation.
But what made it hard was the toll the issue took on his family, saying, "It was very difficult especially sa family ko, sa mama ko at sa wife ko. Mahirap eh. Those were very difficult times for us."
Through it all, the 43-year-old Ayo remains grateful for what he has, now as a coach for the Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 teams as he begins to pick himself back up after the controversy he found himself in.
"I always tell my family na you cannot complain kasi sa mga nangyayari ngayon, I always feel blessed and I'm still grateful. Maraming naghihirap ngayon and grateful ako na nandyan pa ang pamilya ko. I still feel blessed na at least natutulog pa sa ilalim ng bubong, may pagkain pa kami araw araw, so I cannot complain. I just take it and maraming matutunan eh," he said.
"Maganda rin siguro na you just have to be humble. Hindi ito yung tamang oras para magalit. Ito yung tamang oras para intindihin yung sitwasyon. Walang ibang dapat gawin kundi we have to move on."
Ayo also begged for understanding for his former players, that though they're no longer in one team in UST, he will always root for them wherever they go.
"Ako, nakikiusap ako na we should understand the players also. They're still my players although nasa ibang teams na sila. Pero I became their coach and sa akin, gusto kong maging success ko sila. I wish them luck," he said.
"May mga nagsasabi na yung mga players, may mga decision na hindi maganda, but we have to understand the players, gumagawa din sila ng sacrifice. Kung tutuusin, ok na sila sa UST at yung pagalis nila, they're going to take a risk. Pwedeng maging advantageous, pero pwedeng hindi, but we should understand them, yung mga players."
Challenging as the past few months were, Ayo said that it only made him a better person, learning from this tough chapter of his life while holding out hope that soon enough, he can be back coaching in the UAAP sidelines once his penalty finally gets lifted.
"Yung mga nangyari, it was a test of character, test of fate, and susubukan talaga yung pagkatao mo," he said.
"Naisip ko during that time na the best way to overcome it is gawin mo yung tama. And I believe I was able to do the right things. Yung mga statement ko were formal, I did not engage sa social media kasi if I did, parang lalangoy ka against the current and you can't really win, so you just accept it with all humility and basta tama ang ginagawa mo, tama rin ang magiging resulta."