THE recent inauguration of the Balay Atleta marks another step in businessman and sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan's support to the sports program of University of the Philippines.
The Balay Atleta, the former ancestral home of Smart Communications vice-president for sports Patrick Gregorio which now serves as dormitory for the UP lady athletes, has been refurbished through the efforts of Pangilinan and the UP Alpha Sigma fraternity.
Asked if the help will be the start of a bigger commitment the sports program of State U, Pangilinan, a major backer of the Ateneo and San Beda basketball teams, hinted about a possible meeting of minds with the school’s alumni.
“Well, kung makakatulong kami sa kanilang basketball, why not? Aaregluhin na muna siguro ni Pato (Gregorio) `yung meeting with them,” Pangilinan revealed to Spin.ph.
The billionaire businessman, however, stressed this is not the first time he has supported the school.
“Hindi lang naman talaga sa basketball nila ang tulong natin. We’ve been helping UP in a number of areas like engineering, economics, and geology,” said the president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
Bigger support from the telecommunication mogul will definitely go a long way for the UP basketball program, which has endured several losing - and some winless - seasons since winning its only UAAP championship in 1986.
However, such support has restrictions, according to a top official.
“May charter kasi ang UP, hindi kami pupuwedeng sumabay sa ginagawa ng ibang schools. Tayo po ay sumusuporta sa konsepto ng amateurism and character building,” explained Dean Ronwaldo Dizer of the UP College of Human Kinetics.
“Hindi po tayo maaaring sumabay sa katulad ng signing bonus, huge salary, o allowance scheme. Hindi po kasi kinukuha ng UP sa monetary o material na pamamaraan ang pagkumbinse sa mga atleta na maglaro sa paaralan,” he added.
Dizer expressed gratitude for the refurbishment of the Balai Atleta, which can house up to as many as 50 athletes.
“Perennial problem ho talaga namin sa UP ang tirahan. At ito po ay malaking bagay sa ating mga manlalaro, lalo na `yung mga galing sa probinsiya,” the UP official said. “Ito po ang basic privilege na napakalaking bagay at konbenyente sa aming atleta.”
Former UP vice-president Martin Gregorio said leaving the unit is a way for the family to give back to the school which helped shape the basketball careers and academic achievements of his five children, including coaches Ryan and Allan Gregorio, and Patrick.
“Ang laki ng role ng bahay na ito sa buhay namin. Tumira kami dito after Ryan was born in 1972. Andami naming memories, pero we really have to give it back,” the elder Gregorio told Spin.ph.
Gregorio bared the 400-square meter compound has been transformed into a modern dormitory, with son Patrick seeking the aid of a well-known architect to design the rooms.
“Kung mapapansin mo, `yung mga kama rito were designed out of the house’s old woods, walls, etc. State of the art ang design, talagang pinag-isipan. Hindi lang basta bumili o gumawa ng kama at cabinet,” he said.
Aside from the house that served as home to the Gregorio family for 43 years, Dizer bared that construction and renovation of the other athletes’ dormitories is now in full swing.
This developed as Pangilinan said he will not meddle in the school’s choice of a new men’s basketball coach, with current juniors coach Allan Gregorio being floated as among the names being considered for the job.
“Ultimately, desisyon ng eskuwela yun 'eh. Sila naman ang team owner, hindi naman ako. I can give them my suggestion, pero ultimately desisyon nila `yun,” Pangilinan said with a smile.
“Sa suggestion ko, wala pa. Wala pa akong naiisip,” he replied when asked if he has any person in mind to take over the coaching chores for the Fighting Maroons.
UP president Alfredo Pascual, meanwhile, is elated to hear about Pangilinan’s plans to extend support to the university.
“Mr. Pangilinan has been a supporter of UP for a number of years now. We are happy he added this facility for our athletes. This will be a big help,” said Pascual of the man they referred to as MVP.
“This can serve, not just the basketball team, where he’s been associated with, but also other athletes of the university,” said Pascual. “This is one factor that can improve the performance of our athletes. It’s not a guarantee, but we are very hopeful.”