Honoring 2019 achievers in virtual PBA Press Corps Awards mulled for COVID season

Published August 31, 2020, 2:59 PM

by Tito Talao

2018 PBA Coach of the Year Chito Victolero of the Magnolia Hotshots, right, receives the trophy from Cecile Dalupan, daughter of the legendary Maestro Virgilio ‘Baby ‘ Dalupan, for whom the award is named. (Spin.ph)

Questions: Who won out as PBA Coach of the Year last season? San Miguel Beer’s Leo Austria or Tim Cone of Barangay Ginebra?

And who was the recipient of the Executive of the Year award?

The answers are somewhere in a story that spanned more or less six months of lockdown to develop.

Around the second week of March as the PBA Press Corps, a decades-old fraternity of local sportswriters who live and breathe PBA coverage, was getting ready to hold on the 16th the 2019 PBAPC Awards at Novotel Manila, a dire situation broke out and turned everything upside down: COVID-19.

News of a respiratory illness manifesting mysterious pneumonia-like symptoms had been slowly making the headlines in broadcast, print and online media since late January, but only after five weeks did the growing health threat get publicly addressed.

For PBAPC president Gerry Ramos, the options came down to two choices: Push through with the original March 16 date and run the risk of awarding the Virgilio ‘Baby’ Dalupan trophy for best coach and the Danny Floro plaque for top executive, among others, in a near-empty hall, or move the annual event to a latter date.

“I had a conversation with Commissioner Willie Marcial shortly after the league decided to indefinitely suspend the season last March 11,” Ramos, on his fourth year as PBAPC president, recalls.

“And a decision was reached even before the March 16 ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) took effect.”

An unlikely source may have had some influence on the matter.

On March 8, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation 922 placing the entire Philippines under a state of public health emergency due to the coronavirus disease.

That evening, the Philippine Basketball Association, kicking off its 45th season, held the Leo Awards at the Smart Araneta Coliseum and ushered in the 2020 Philippine Cup with a game between defending five-peat champion San Miguel Beer and Magnolia Hotshots.

As it turned out, it would be the only PBA game to be played up to now as Marcial, with the concurrence of the PBA Board of Governors, suspended the rest of the conference three days later.

It would also be the last coverage for the press corps.   

Five days after the PBA season was put on hold, Duterte declared a Luzon-wide ECQ that was to become the start of a five-month lockdown of varying stages in different parts of the country.

Rather than spend the evening paying tribute to the concluded season’s best achievers, presenting Leo Austria with his fourth Coach of the Year honor in five years and TNT KaTropa governor Ricky Vargas with the Executive of the Year plum, the PBAPC instead put out a press release that said the annual awards gig was off.

From left, Magnolia governor Rene Pardo, Brgy. Ginebra governor and San Miguel Corporation sports director Alfrancis Chua, the Executive of the Year winner, and San Miguel Beer governor Robert Non. (Spin.ph)

The release partly read:

“The PBA Press Corps has decided to suspend at the last minute the staging of its 2019 Awards Night in the aftermath of President Duterte imposing a ‘community quarantine’ in the entire Metro Manila area to prevent the continuous spread of the coronavirus disease.

“The affair was scheduled to be held on March 16 at the Novotel Manila in Araneta City, or a day after the full implementation of the safety measures which the President announced Thursday night.

“The decision to reschedule the event at a later date is to ensure the health and safety of the awardees, guests, friends, and members of the working press.”

Looking back, Ramos, associate editor of Spin.ph, believes it was the right thing to do, maybe the only option available.

“I was very disappointed but at the same time, understood the situation,” he says. “Nung time na yun, hindi pa ganoon ka-alarming yung COVID cases in the country. 

“But I was also thinking about whether to push through with the Awards Night or not, since at the most, it required a gathering of at least 50 or more persons in a venue, which was a no-no at the time.”

Why the black-tie event wasn’t staged earlier, Ramos admits, also played in his mind.

“How I wished it was held just days before the National Capital Region was placed under ECQ. Sabi ko ‘kaunti na lang.’ The PBA opened March 8, kaya nga sabi ko, ‘bakit hindi pa nausog ng kaunti?’ Again, the health concern of everybody else remains the priority.”

In truth, the Awards Night had been originally scheduled a week earlier.

But after the PBA moved the opening of its 45th season from March 1 to March 8 following an advisory from the Department of Health, the press corps, not wishing to preempt the Leo Awards — where, among other honorees, SMB center June Mar Fajardo was set to win his sixth MVP trophy — decided to reset to March 16.

In their release, the sportswriters extended their gratitude to Novotel Manila management “for giving the group utmost flexibility following its move to call off the awards night even late in the day.

“Michee Crudo, sales director of Novotel, stressed that health and the safety of its clientele and the public in general is above anything else, reason why management has given the men and women regularly covering the PBA beat some leeway to hold the event at a later date.”

Says Ramos: “I am very appreciative of the Novotel management because the moment I communicated to them about the situation, they were reasonable enough and understood everything about it. We have reached out to them from time to time, and hopefully they would remain accommodating enough.”

PBA Press Corps president Gerry Ramos, right, with veteran sportscaster and host Sev Sarmenta. (Spin.ph)

Holding the awards night, like resuming PBA team practice, is actually no longer a no-win proposition.

The immediacy and convenience of digital technology via webcasts and teleconferencing platforms have given the PBAPC an online alternative if the coronavirus outbreak continues to preclude social gatherings like awards ceremonies.

And this the press corps has been considering lately. 

“With what’s everything happening right now, I’m actually thinking about making the awards a ‘virtual affair’ where awardees will receive their plaques online,” Ramos says.

“Then, if ever the season restarts, hopefully the PBAPC would be able to hand the trophies personally to the awardees.”

All the trophies and plaques that would have been handed out to the following: Six-time MVP winner June Mar Fajardo (Order of Merit), CJ Perez (Scoring champion), D-League Finals MVPs (Thirdy Ravena and Hesed Gabo), All-Interview Team (Kiefer Ravena, Christian Standhardinger, Vic Manuel, Arwind Santos, Beau Belga, and coach Yeng Guiao), All-Rookie Team (Perez, Robert Bolick, Javee Mocon, Bobby Ray Parks, and Abu Tratter), and Game of the Season (NLEX vs. NorthPort) — remain in the care of Angel Zamora & Sons Inc. and will be stored there until the appropriate time — virtual or otherwise.

Notwithstanding the return to practice of PBA ballclubs under strict health protocols and as approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force and a tripartite Joint  Administrative Order Group, actual physical games, spectator-less even, remain a thing of the future.

And tied with that is the fate of the 2020 PBAPC Awards.

“I haven’t talked to Commissioner Marcial about it until magsimula na talaga yung season, and we really have no idea when games will be held,” Ramos says.

“The commissioner has said that he’ll be in consultation with the PBA Press Corps regarding the individual awards pag talagang natuloy yung 45th season. Pero kung walang season, obviously wala tayong awardees.”