Philip Manalang (Photo from Chooks to Go)

When Philip Manalang nailed the buzzer-beating trey that gave Basilan-Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Invitational powered by TM crown in the wee hours of Friday, he turned his back, sobbing in front of the jampacked SM Mall of Asia Arena.

It was worth more than the P2,000,000 pot at stake. It was the culmination of a year-long journey of redemption for the point guard out of University of the East.

“Siguro destiny ito, God’s will ito at para sa amin talaga,” said the 24-year-old guard out of San Fernando, Pampanga.

Back in March of 2020, Basilan was supposed to take on Davao Occidental-Cocolife in a do-or-die Game Three Southern Finals tilt in the MPBL’s Lakan season. But it was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A year later, the league was able to clear clearance to resume the playoffs inside a bubble in Subic.

Basilan though was not able to play out the game as two of their players and some of their staff members tested positive for COVID-19. And one of those players was Manalang.

“Actually kasi yung bubble na yun, ako yung nag-positive sa COVID nun… Ako tsaka si [Anthony] Bringas,” he admitted.

“Tumawag si Coach Jerson sa akin nun tapos yun, umiiyak ako sa kanya na nag-positive ako. Nahihiya ako sa kanila since ako pa yung naging reason. Nandun na kami e,” he continued.

“Asymptomatic po ako pero hirap na 14 days ako naka-quarantine tapos yung kasama ko, nag-severe. Dun ako natakot.”

For the next few months, Basilan went on a redemption tour in various leagues in the country.

They went on to win the inaugural Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup title last August in Pagadian. Two months later, the same team, now carrying the name Manila AICC, ruled the Filbasket tournament in Subic.

Despite winning two tournaments, Basilan head coach Jerson Cabiltes wanted one thing — the MPBL crown.

“When Basilan was asked to join the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Invitational, it was not about redemption anymore, not about us redeeming ourselves after not being able to play the last championship game,” he said. “If this would be one of our reasons to play, then this would be unfair to the new additions to our team.

“The truth is I just wanted to create an opportunity for my team to play the sport that we love and to have work this holiday season,” he continued.

Basilan showed character all throughout the tournament, winning close games en route to a 6-0 record heading into the final. But they had to hurdle the fancied Nueva Ecija team that had the likes of Roi Sumang, tournament MVP Michael Mabulac, and top prospect Justin Gutang.

For 40 minutes, the two teams slugged it out with no team leading by more than five points. By the end of four quarters, the two teams were deadlocked at 74-all.

For his part, Manalang was cold from the field, going 0-of-8. Still, he never lost his confidence as he waited for his moment.

“Sabi ko, tiwala pa rin ako sa sarili ko kasi araw-araw naman ako nag-shooshooting. Kahit nagstra-struggle ako nung first half, nandun pa rin yung tiwala ko sa sarili ko.”

With tied at 80-all with 1.9 seconds left, Manalang found himself wide open on top of the three-point arc. He then threw up an in-rhythm triple.

What happened next was pure bliss for Manalang. Finally, he was able to give back to Basilan, his coaches, and his teammates for not giving up on him.

It was the perfect Christmas ending for Manalang after a rollercoaster year.

Source: Manila Bulletin (