In front of more than 54,000 fans at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue last Sunday, Justin Brownlee wrapped up his mission for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Now he sets off to accomplish another task, this time for millions of Filipinos as a key member of Gilas Pilipinas for the sixth and final window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers next month.
Hours after leading the Kings to the championship against Hong Kong’s Bay Area Dragons in Game 7 of the conference Finals, Brownlee completed the first of three remaining tasks leading to his naturalization Monday, taking his oath of allegiance as a Filipino citizen at the Philippine Senate in Pasay City.
Two more steps remain for Brownlee to be able to exercise all the rights and privileges of a Filipino citizen, and be eligible to play as one for Gilas Pilipinas: secure a certification of naturalization from the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation and acquire a Philippine passport from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Both documents are expected to be secured in the next few days.
After hurdling the mandatory process of naturalization in the House of Representatives and the Senate, with the President signing into law the legislative measure known as Republic Act No. 11937, Brownlee was sworn in by Sen. Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in the presence of fellow Senators Christopher ‘Bong’ Go and JV Ejercito, and Rep. Juliet Marie de Leon Ferrer, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice.
Accompanying Brownlee, who is slated to banner Gilas Pilipinas against Lebanon on February 24 and Jordan on February 27, both at the Philippine Arena, were Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas Executive Director Sonny Barrios, Deputy Executive Director Butch Antonio, and legal counsel Edgar Francisco.
“As a citizen, I will try my best to make the Filipino people proud. I want to keep making you guys proud and to do whatever I can to help the national team,” Brownlee said during the oath-taking ceremony.
“I feel great and I’m pretty excited to be representing the country,” Brownlee, in a traditional Barong Tagalog and dark pants and shoes, said just before the swearing-in. “Representing Ginebra, of course, is a huge thing; it’s a big deal as far as basketball is concerned over here in the Philippines. But representing the country is an even bigger deal. That’s why in that series (against Bay Area), it felt like we were representing the whole country.”
Plans to visit his family in the United States are on hold for Brownlee, with the PBA season-ending Governors’ Cup kicking off on January 22 at the Philsports Arena and national coach Chot Reyes about to start Gilas Pilipinas’ once-a-week practice on Monday.
“I don’t think I have any time,” he said. “Maybe if we have time, I would have.”
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Sen. Tolentino, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, said he is honored to have played an instrumental part in the naturalization effort.
“I join the millions of Filipino basketball fans in having the great honor of embracing Justin Brownlee as a Filipino citizen,” he said. “Not only does his character exemplify the need for hard work, dedication and discipline and are being highlighted to the youth today, what’s more important is that Justin Brownlee’s place in Philippine sports will be further fortified and solidified with his Filipino citizenship.
“It was an honor to be part of the journey, as chairman of the Committee on Justice, in having him become a Filipino citizen. Karangalan ko po na tulungan at suportahan ang aspirasyon ni Justin Brownlee na maging Pilipino, na kanyang minithi nang apat na taon na ang nakalilipas. Sa hangad po natin nang maayos na basketball team, natulungan din po natin ang ating mga kabataan dahil magsisilbi siyang halimbawa ng disiplina, sipag at dedikasyon sa isang gawain. Mabuhay po ang Pilipinas, mabuhay po si Justin Brownlee, mabuhay po ang SBP.”
Rep. Ferrer, who shepherded the bill in Congress and pinned the Philippine flag on Brownlee’s collar, said she held no reservations about throwing her support behind the legislative measure when it was raised in the House.
“It is great to have Justin as one of us now,” the representative of the 4th district of Negros Occidental said. “He’ll be representing the country so it will be our pride. I was very honored to be the sponsor of the naturalization bill. He’s a very nice person and so I had no second thoughts when I met him.”
Sen. Go, along with Sen. Ejercito presented Brownlee with his naturalization papers. The Davao-based lawmaker also presented the newly-minted Filipino citizen with a pomelo, which Brownlee peeled open with his bare hands and ate.
“As committee chair on sports dito sa Senado, full support po ako dito sa pagiging Pilipino ni Justin Brownlee. Alam ko si Justin ay me pusong Pinoy. Alam ko na mahal niya ang Pilipino at napamahal na rin siya sa ating mga kababayan. Malaking tulong po siya sa ating kampanya sa FIBA. Malayo ang mararating natin with Justin Brownlee sa national team.”
“We in SBP thank the President, the Senate and the Lower House for approving the application of Justin Brownlee with dispatch so that he can serve the Gilas Pilipinas National Team in time for the February Qualifiers. Our millions of basketball fans truly appreciate the resolve of our political leaders to make our National Team more competitive at the international stage,” said SBP President Al Panlilio.
Photo credit: SBP