Growling Tigers farmed, planted trees in Ayo’s Sorsogon ‘bubble’ – police

THE University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers went to that controversial Sorsogon City Bubble not to primarily play basketball but to get immersed in a life in the farm.

While in the bubble-cum-farm, the Growling Tigers got to earn allowances courtesy of resigned UST head coach Aldin Ayo, who saw a need of his players for some sort of a financial assistance because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

UST did not authorize the bubble but its Institute of Physical Education and Athletics (IPEA) required a letter of consent and a waiver from the players and their parents or guardians, thus freeing the school of any responsibility.

These were just some of the revelations the BusinessMirror culled from the “Investigation Report on the Alleged IATF Violation Committed by Coach Aldin Ayo” prepared by the Chief of Police of Sorsogon City dated September 23, 2020.

The police report cleared Ayo of any wrongdoing while maintaining the bubble for three months, prompting the Provincial Government of Sorsogon to issue the former UST men’s basketball team coach its own clearance over what could have been violations of health and safety guidelines set by the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease.

“In view of the foregoing, all factual issues and legal issues considered, the Office finds Mr. Aldin Villadolid Ayo not liable for violation of any health protocol pursuant to the EID-IATF health guidelines and local executive order in the Province of Sorsogon during the arrival and stay of the above individual in the City of Sorsogon,” the police report said in the document obtained by the BusinessMirror.

Senior Master Sergeant Jungie Vito prepared the report with Investigation Officer Major Pedro Jimenez verifying the document and Chief of Police Lt. Col. Benito Dipad Jr. concurring.

Players sought Ayo’s help

AS UST insisted on conducting its own investigation after the controversy broke and putting a lid on the result with only the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) and the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) Group getting copies of the inquiry, the Sorsogon City police’s investigation didn’t fall short of revealing facts surrounding the issue that almost gutted the entire Growling Tigers team.

The police was tasked to evaluate, ascertain and determine if Ayo breached quarantine protocols, if there was basketball training in Sorsogon City specifically in Ayo’s farm in Barangay Capuy, and if there were administrative and criminal liabilities committed by the former coach.

The police also put into strong consideration the UAAP’s investigation that resulted in the league banning Ayo indefinitely from all of its games and activities on three grounds: first, Ayo brought the team to Sorsogon while quarantines are enforced; second, many of the players are under 21 years old; and third, the Growling Tigers, being a non-professional team, trained when they were not allowed by the government to do so even in low-risk areas like Barangay Capuy.

During the early stages of the investigation, Ayo told the police that he was inspired to hold the bubble after learning that some of his players narrated sad stories on their need to earn to help their families cope with the crisis—the players were dependent on allowances as varsity athletes—to a parent asking his assistant coach, McJour Luib, (in May 20) “to take their son [a player] because they do not have much to feed their family as he was relieved from his work as a family driver.”

“His heart was moved, as a head coach he is like a father to them, he is very much concerned with their safety, health and overall well-being. Hence, he envisioned a training camp for individual players who would want to come to Sorsogon whereby he can engage them in farm work and training while still not enrolled yet for the next delayed school year,” the report said.

The 42-year-old Ayo’s family owns a farm planted to mahogany and rice and a piggery—which extends to Batangas—in Barangay Capuy.

UST sets conditions for bubble

ALDIN AYO sought UST’s permission for his plan but was initially turned down. He persevered for a week and eventually got the nod of IPEA Director Fr. Jannel Abogado on strict conditions that UST would not sanction, support and fund the activity and that the students “would be entirely on their own and it was purely voluntary.”

In addition, Fr. Abogado required Ayo and his staff to submit a consent letter from the players and their players and guardians with a waiver. This condition went viral after a player leaked the conditions on social media at the height of the controversy and Fr. Abogado eventually resigned his post—he was temporarily replaced by former director Fr. Ermito de Sagon until UST formally assigned Fr. Rodel Cansancio.

It was found out that Ayo got all necessary documents to transport his team to Sorsogon—consent letters and waivers, barangay and municipal certifications, negative rapid or RT/PCR test results and travel authority from the National Capital Region-Philippine National Police Office.

The Sorsogon City Health Office also welcomed Ayo and some of his players for the special training program that was to last for three months but marred with former team captain CJ Cansino quitting the team and transferring to the University of the Philippines and four other players moving to De La Salle and Letran.

With all documents and coordinations in place, the team left for Sorsogon City in groups—Cansino and Soulmane ChabiYo on June 17; John Bismark Lina and Santos Bryan Santos on June 19; Joshua Fontanilla, Bryan Samudio and Rhenz Joseph Abando on June 24;  and Brent Paraiso, Ira Spender Bataller, Paul Matthew Manalang and Adama Faye on June 28.

The biggest group of six players—Aldave Dale Canoy, Arnold Dave Ando, Vince Petdeo Cuajao, Jonathan Ralph Gesalem, Mark Nonoy and Miguel Pangilinan—departed for Bicol on June 29.

The city government of Sorsogon then issued a certificate of acceptance for the players on two occasions—June 26 and July 22—cementing the local government unit’s consent and participation in Ayo’s program.

Players’ travel tagged as essential

AYO escaped potential breaches on the account that his players heeded protocols by classifying the travel to Sorsogon as essential because they intended to find work in the former coach’s farm.

“That, being engaged in the agricultural industry, IATF resolutions allow travel for the players concerned. In his [Ayo] farm, they proceeded to farm engagement and training for which he gave the players/trainees some allowances, aside from their free [boarding] lodging and free meals,” the report added.

The report, however, didn’t reveal how much the players got as allowances from Ayo.

The report also bared that the players “learned important lessons from agricultural business to livelihood programs [they planted mahogany trees]” and that while waiting for the rice to mature and weren’t busy at the farm, the players “were allowed to make use of a basketball court which is enclosed inside a living room in his [Ayo] house where the players had individual training and not team practice.”

Citing general guidelines by the Joint Agreement Order group—a body tasked by the IATFA to supervise sports during the pandemic and composed of representatives from the Philippine Sports Commission, Games and Amusements Board and Department of Health—the police found no violation of sports protocols.

“The prohibition for non-professional contact sports do not find application in a place of domicile .. and that they [players] observed the necessary protocols imposed by the health offices all the time and during the duration of the stay of the players in his house and farm, there were no complaints from anyone in their barangay as well as in their city as well as the province of Sorsogon of any violation of government quarantine protocols,” the report said.

Quarantine, check. Protocols, check.

FROM observing a 14-day home quarantine to limiting the players’ movement within the confines of the house where they stayed and the farm, the erstwhile embattled coach who won championships, first for Letran in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and for De La Salle in the UAAP, got himself off the hook.

The police also noted that no one in the group was a person under monitoring, nor did anyone manifested symptoms of the virus for two weeks. The report furthered that the group members underwent Covid-19 tests a week before they traveled to Bicol and that their authority to travel from the Joint Task Force Covid Shield was in order.

“After a careful evaluation and analysis of the pieces of evidence submitted, there is a clear exhibition of a legitimate activities undertaken by the former UST coach Aldin Ayo,” the police said as part of its conclusion. “That the actions performed … [is] in accordance with the health protocol and guidelines [by the IATF].”

Playing basketball –while not farming– inside a house, and not in a sports venue, also saved Ayo from possible sanctions.

“There was no UST sanctioned team basketball training conducted at the domicile of Mr. Aldin V. Ayo nor was there any prohibited basketball activities conducted by his guests outside of his residence and within the jurisdiction of the Province of Sorsogon,” the report concluded.

Coach is cleared, but what’s next for Tigers?

ALDIN AYO may have been cleared, at least by his home province of Sorsogon, but where to, Growling Tigers?

The controversy could be the worse that struck the UAAP so far since the 2006 suspension of De La Salle for fielding two ineligible players with UST’s Tigers licking their wounds, wondering how they would fare with a gutted roster in Season 83 that was postponed for the first quarter of next year.

CJ Cansino has moved to the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, his departure from UST marked by a burned down bridge connecting the top-scoring guard with his former coach.

Brent Paraiso and another certified scorer, Rhenz Abando, as well as Ira Bataller went to Letran, with Mark Nonoy and Vince Petjeo Cuajao transferring to De La Salle. Incoming sophomore Jun Asuncion — he wasn’t mentioned in the bubble — opted for Mapua.

To date, UST has yet to name Ayo’s replacement, although the applicants’ list has grown, including former Philippine Basketball Association Best Import Sean Chambers, Thailand national men’s coach Chris Daleo, Blackwater coach Aris Dimaunahan, former Kia coach Chris Gavina, ex-Technological Institute of the Philippines mentor Potit de Vera, former top UST player Ed Cordero, former PBA player Gilbert Lao andcurrent coach of Piscataway Tech High School in New Jersey Lenny Reyes.

As for Ayo, the clearance from Sorsogon Governor Francis “Chiz” Escudero could be a basis for a recommendation from the Department of Justice’s investigation on the bubble that, viewing from another angle, spiced up the shuttered sports community since the pandemic struck in March.

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