The Reality of Racism in Philippine Sports

by: Tanya Iñigo 

It’s time racial discrimination against Non-Filipino or Mixed-Raced Filipino athletes within the country be addressed. (Note: We also talked about racism in Philippine sports here.)  These discriminatory acts committed by Filipinos against these athletes do not only come from co-athletes, referees, athletic directors, or staff of sports leagues. It also comes from fans from all around the country.

 Defining Racial Discrimination

Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the “Convention”), racial discrimination is any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on color, descent or national or ethnic origin which impairs the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, social, cultural or any other field of public life.[1] In the Philippines, the Convention became the basis for Presidential Decree No. 966 which considers as an offense:

“…all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another color or ethnic origin […]”[2]

The P.D. also prohibits organizations, and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination.[3] A person who violates the P.D. may be imprisoned for a minimum of ten (10) days or up to a year, depending on the specific provision violated.

Racial Discrimination By Filipinos

 Exclusion or Restriction in an Institutional Level

Applying these definitions, one can argue that the ban on allowing foreign players to play in Philippine leagues is an exclusion or restriction based on descent or national or ethnic origin, which impairs the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms in their public life. Import restrictions have been imposed across different leagues where sports associations would permit foreign athletes to play for as long as the number of players would be limited.

For example, the PBA imposes the two-import limit for the Commissioner’s Cup and Governors’ Cup. Prior to Season 78, the UAAP allowed two foreign players to participate in the games for as long as they field one player at a time. By Season 78, only one import could play—at least in basketball. The NCAA already banned foreign players altogether for Season 96.

A resolution was even filed seeking to prohibit collegiate leagues from recruiting non-Filipino citizens and imports.  The reason behind these restrictions are: (1) that Filipino players are deprived of the opportunity to play; and (2) the participation of foreign imports hinders the development of sports programs in the Philippines.

If we were to test the premise of these import restrictions, the resolution, if it eventually becomes a bill and then a law, would be in violation of the Convention because it takes the form of an exclusion or restriction solely based national or ethnic origin, which impair the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms in the athlete’s public life. In fact, by choosing to keep silent on matters regarding import restrictions imposed by the national and collegiate sports league, the State is already violating Article 2 of the Convention by failing to:

“…prohibit or bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization.”[4]

Hate Speech Committed by Players

Filipino players have performed discriminatory acts directed against Non-Filipinos or Mixed-Filipinos. Ola Adegoun, a basketball player with Nigerian roots, was attacked online by a Letran player. The latter spewed a few expletives and referred to him publicly as “mabahong unggoy.” No penalty was imposed, but the Letran player issued a public apology.

Fairly recent were the racist acts performed by Arwind Santos. He was seen making monkey gestures directed against Terrence Jones, a player of African American descent. As punishment, the PBA required Santos to render community service, undergo counseling on equality and racial discrimination, and pay a P250,000.00 peso fine.

Hate speech Committed by Coaches and Staff

Bernard Santos, a staff-member of D-League’s Cagayan Valley, taunted Ola Adeogun using a banana while doing animal motions in the middle of a game. The PBA handed down a 10-day suspension against him.

Yeng Guiao, the coach for NLEX Road Warriors, called Chris Ross the N-word and gave him the dirty finger. The coach denied the allegation that he called Ross the N-word but still admitted that he gave the dirty finger. The PBA decided to impose a fine of P11,000.

Hate Speech Committed by Fans

Acts of racial discrimination committed by fans often go unregulated because it is done outside the playing field or court. It is done while they are on the bleachers during the actual game or through online tirades.

Lauren Ford, an African American volleyball player for San Sebastian College back in 2011, was said to be frequently boo-ed when it was her time to serve and that online comments called her the N-word.

Aduke Ogunsanya, a Half-Nigerian and Half-Filipino playing for La Salle, publicly admitted that she has been hurt by online posts that comment on her skin color. Online comments are still searchable, and one may easily trace hate tweets which include, “UnggoySanya” or “Unggoy na Floppybird pa.” One comment even included several monkey emojis.

Apart from this, there are also comments against other athletes that contain racial slurs deep within the archives of Twitter and Facebook.

How Do Sports Clubs Handle the Situation?

The penalties imposed for acts of discrimination vary depending on which league the player is playing with. It seems that leagues at the national level are stricter in imposing penalties compared to their collegiate counterparts. A common thread among sports associations is that they are keener on penalizing the players and the coaching staff rather than the fans. No known penalty has ever been imposed for racial discrimination committed by the fans.

Usually, leagues have a Code of Conduct. In the UAAP, the Code of Conduct for Fans mandates that:

“Fans will enjoy the UAAP sport event free from disruptive behavior, including foul or abusive language and obscene gestures.”

Offensive acts of fans have corresponding consequences ranging from the confiscation of fan signs to being banned from the facility completely. Currently, there is no rule issued by the sports league against online comments which are racially charged, or if there is, it has yet to be published.


A lot of fans welcome Non-Filipino or Mixed-Filipino players because it makes the sport more exciting to watch. Psychological warfare, as part of the sport, should not justify racial discrimination because it offends the human dignity of the athlete and the integrity of the country from which the athlete is from. It is unfathomable why sports leagues are still not taking any action to prevent these discriminatory acts. The penalties imposed are mostly remedial rather than preventive. The proper course of action to address these issues should be on three levels:

State Responsibility

First, the government must be proactive in protecting the minorities in the country. The problem is that there is government inaction on the issue of racial discrimination.  One example of a form of neglect in protection of the rights of Non-Filipinos or Mixed-Race Filipinos in the Philippines is the enforcement of the law. At present, there are rarely any cases filed for violating P.D. No. 966.

Policies protecting the rights of cultural minorities are also lacking. There is a pending bill in the Senate entitled, “Anti-Ethnic or Racial Profiling and Discrimination Act of 2011[5]” which is a great improvement of P.D. No. 966. It defines racial discrimination across different fields, and enumerates specific acts of racism. Overall, the bill provides a wider scope of protection for the injured party. Unfortunately, the bill is still pending despite being filed in 2011!

Institutional Responsibility

Second, Sports Associations or the Sports Club must include guarantees in the contract of athletes which protect players from Racial Discrimination. Further, it is highly recommended that Sports Clubs or Associations create a committee to whom these athletes may turn to so that their psychological and legal concerns are addressed. The Committee can recommend policies to the Board to facilitate the prevention of racial discrimination within the league. It may also serve as refuge for athletes where they can demand that their legal rights be enforced. It can assist in providing for legal remedies such as filing cases for the violation of the Revised Penal Code (e.g. Unjust Vexation), or even special penal laws (e.g. P.D. No. 966 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act).

Social Responsibility

Lastly, the citizens (especially sports fans!) must learn to be sensitive to the needs of other people in the community. Another solution would be to form movements geared toward providing awareness and protection to the cultural minorities and Non-Filipinos Natives. Everyone should also take the opportunity to be vehicles for change and promote the concept that racial discrimination in whatever form is unacceptable.

Tanya Iñigo is an Ateneo Law School senior and retired swimmer who loves the sea but would hold on to anything to keep afloat and away from any jellyfish. She enjoys playing most sports and hopes to get back into it after passing the bar. She also won ALS Sports Law’s 4th Annual UAAP-NBA Fantasy League—her team? The ADMU Lakers.


[1] UN General Assembly, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 21 December 1965, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 660, p. 195, available at %5Baccessed 8 July 2020].

[2] Declaring Violations of The International Convention of The Elimination of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination To Be Criminal Offenses And Providing Penalties Therefor, P.D. No. 966 (1976).

[3] Id.

[4] UN General Assembly, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 21 December 1965, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 660, p. 195, available at [accessed 8 July 2020].

[5] Anti-Ethnic or Racial Profiling and Discrimination Act Of 2011, SBN-2814, 15th Congress, 2nd Reg. Sess. (2011).


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