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Commentary: 'Wais' moves led to Gilas vs NBA cancellation fiasco

PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan (center) apologized for the cancellation on Tuesday night. KC Cruz

Up until the end, Ariel Fermin was trying to be wais.
Moments after the shocked crowd inside the SMART-Araneta Coliseum were told that no game between Gilas Pilipinas and a selection of NBA players was going to happen on Tuesday evening, the PLDT executive vice president said that the company would be willing to give refunds for the thousands of hard-earned pesos that ticket-holders had shelled out for the event.
But they may want to rethink asking for refunds, Fermin reminded fans, because the event was ostensibly done for charity.
"Tulungan niyo kaming tulungan yung ibang tao," he told the audience. "After all, this is really for a good cause."
You certainly couldn't blame the guy for trying. He was, after all, hoping against all hope that he could help prevent the event -- already a mild flop after falling far short of a sellout -- from turning into an unmitigated disaster.
But these wais moves of the people behind the fiasco is the reason why they ended up with this disaster -- and why they all deserve to have eggs on their faces.
For the event, PLDT tapped East-West Private Holdings to once again work on bringing NBA stars to the Philippines. The Cincinnati-based company was the same firm that worked with the MVP Group of Companies, which includes PLDT, to bring basketball stars led by Kobe Bryant for a well-received pair of exhibition games in 2011 during the NBA lockout.
But with the lockout resolved and the NBA in swing this year, East-West had to secure a permit from the league to allow the players to see action in any exhibition game. East-West said it made a request last April. The NBA denied the move.
But even though an actual exhibition game was out of the question, that didn't stop organizers from trying to make it happen. East-West set up the two-night event to be a "basketball clinic," at the end of which would be a five-on-five scrimmage between the NBA stars and Gilas players.
PLDT fell in line with this, with Fermin himself noting in the aftermath of the fiasco that the company never advertised that there would be a game.
"We never said in our print ads that there was a game. We said it would be a charity event," Fermin was quoted in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
A look back at a press release for the event sent out last June 30 bared how carefully PLDT seemed to craft its message to make sure it wouldn't mention an exhibition game.
"Watch our homegrown Gilas Pilipinas heroes Jimmy Alapag, Jayson Castro William, Ranidel De Ocampo, Gabe Norwood and Mark Pingris bring their game on as they train under Coaches Chot Reyes and John Lucas," the release said.
But then, perhaps the writer of the release, from PR and marketing firm InGenius Works, Inc., slipped, as it included the following quote from Gilas coach Chot Reyes: "This is the best send-off game we can give to our Filipino fans who have been fervently following and cheering for Gilas Pilipinas. I hope the love and support for the team continues as we enter the biggest battle of our lives in Spain."
In any case, the organizers thought they had come up with a wais plan to circumvent the NBA policy while still drawing Filipino basketball fans to the event.
But the NBA was quick to figure out what the supposed "basketball clinic" in Manila really was, and brought the hammer down on the players, who were threatened with sanctions and suspensions if they played.
A memo from the NBA Players Association obtained by Yahoo! Sports said the league "has taken the position that any such exhibition or competition is unallowable and is not approved for player participation under the [collective bargaining agreement], regardless of whether it is incorporated into a 'clinic' or other 'benign-sounding activity.'"
But even after receiving news that the NBA players would not be allowed to take part in any sort of five-on-five activity, the organizers refused to come clean.
When Reyes announced to the crowd inside the Big Dome that no game would happen with a practice session taking its place, he billed it as something fans had never seen before.
Fermin then took the microphone, announcing that refunds for fans were available, but adding his not-so-gentle reminder that the event was for charity. This even though the fans, some of whom paid P23,000 for a patron ticket, were already feeling massively shortchanged.
It wasn't until PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan spoke up later that evening that someone finally took some responsibility.
After apologizing, Pangilinan admitted that fans were misled, saying that PLDT "created that expectation and perception" that there was going to be a game, even though they knew it was always going to be a clinic with a five-on-five scrimmage thrown in.
While Pangilinan apologized, Fermin continued to blame the events firm, who in turn continued to blame the NBA.
This happened as the fiasco turned into a PR disaster for PLDT; online, fans joked that the company's acronym stood for "Practice Lang Daw Talaga," which quickly became a trending topic on Twitter.
For the company, the saddest thing about the whole affair is that it pissed away all the goodwill toward Pangilinan and the MVP Group of Companies they had built up over the years for their support of sporting events such as the last year's FIBA Asia Championship in Manila.
Already, there are heads about to roll, according to reports. People should certainly be made accountable, if not for anything else, for being dumb enough to think their wais moves were ever going to work.
Jaemark Tordecilla is the executive editor of GMA News Online. For three years, he was managing editor at a news website that was part of the MVP Group of Companies.