Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, A Glorified "Ligang Labas"?

It has been quite a while when Filipino basketball fans had experience a basketball league that has a true home-and-away format that the National Basketball Association is known for. Sure we had the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association and now have the regional ASEAN Basketball League but we don't have the stable national league that plays home and away all season long. Until now!

It has been quite a while when Filipino basketball fans experienced a basketball league that has a true home-and-away format and single-season champion that the National Basketball Association is known for. Sure we had the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association and now have the regional ASEAN Basketball League but we don't have a stable national league that plays home and away all season long. Until now.

Many have tried to recreate the dream that was the MBA (Liga Pilipinas, Mindanao Visayas Basketball Association, Filsport Basketball Association, Countrywide Basketball League and other incarnates) by incorporating a home-and-away basketball league in the Philippines. Let's face it, the Philippine Basketball Association is already showing its age with its archaic league format, dwindling attendance, and TV viewing share and controversies that have turned off a lot of fans. Sure, the PBA still employs the best basketball players in the country and many up-and-coming players are still aspiring to be in the league. But the PBA's continued "risk aversion" to reinventing itself to a true national league with teams all over the country is holding it back to become bigger than it is right now.

Issues and Criticisms

The emergence of a new league like the MPBL may be a good ground for unknown and undiscovered players to make a name for themselves. If this league is managed right, it can expand to other provinces and eventually to Visayas and Mindanao where it will eventually become a true national league. But the question remains, will they do the right things that the MBA didn't do and prevent it from a catastrophic demise? Only time will tell. So far, everything is good with medium-sized gyms hosting each team were filled to the brim.

The 12 PBA teams are not enough to get all the best players employed and when I say the "best," I mean the very best amateur standouts and veteran journeymen who can still do some moves (many are no longer in the big league). So having a separate league can be a safety net for them. Outside of the PBA, there is the ABL or the PBA D-League while some opt to complete their five-year eligibility in the UAAP and NCAA before taking a chance at the PBA Draft. No wonder, PBA rookies are much older compared to other leagues with a draft system in place. On the other hand, the MPBL has a direct hiring process so anyone can try out and play for a team. Five homegrown talents are guaranteed to get roster spots and teams also have the option to get ex-professional players like Gary David and even Marlou Aquino.

Some critics have called it the "Manny Pacquiao Basketball League" poking fun at the league founder, boxing icon, and ex-KIA 'player-coach' Manny Pacquiao's failed basketball career. Others have also branded it as "Maharlika Manila Basketball League" due to the absence of any Visayan or Mindanao teams. While it is also often called a glorified "ligang labas," which is a term used for informal basketball leagues organized around the country during fiestas and part of political self-promotion by local government officials. Often, these "ligang labas" games attract a lot of ex-collegiate and PBA players to play in remote barangays for that big prize money. Essentially, MPBL somewhat operates in these lines so that the "over-the-hill" players trying to catch up with their past glories team up with virtual "who knows" for a basketball title.

Using the name of the locality is the way to go, I understand that each team has corporate sponsors that bankroll its operations but it's kind of gaudy to include the corporate name into the team name. LeBron James' team is not called the Cleveland Goodyear Cavaliers right? They can probably work on the branding of their teams by using creative wordplay or even using another monicker. Why would you call your team, the "Kuyas"? I'm sure there are other things Bulacan is famous for.

Local Market and LGU Support

Metro Manila is already a saturated basketball market and the PBA is feeling the effects of dwindling attendance and rising ticket prices. However, the MPBL has filled up their venues with enthusiastic fans even though some of the players are not yet known, plays are a little bit unpolished and team chemistry is not yet there. However, it has one compelling element that the PBA can't replicate unless if it's Ginebra (San Miguel and Magnolia to a certain degree) - a true home crowd and team-branded homecourt. The essence of having a road team winning against the home team with its partisan fan support is not truly there in the PBA.

I really don't mind local governments playing a very "active" role in team operations but it would be appropriate to remove political ads in the league. The way I see it, some 'epal' politicians may hijack the popularity of this league to serve their plans of getting reelected and catapulting them for higher office. Another issue would be for teams that won't do well in this league, will they just disband just because things don't go well or keep on competing? I really hope teams would stay and keep improving otherwise it would be like the PBA where there is a constant roulette of teams changing names and owners.

Possible Future Growth Paths

Sure, MPBL can complement the PBA but what if all the emerging stars will be lured to play in the PBA and PBA D-League? I understand that the end goal of this league is to replicate the NBA to up to 20 teams all over the country but creating a balance and ensuring a viable league is a different story. Pacquiao has even said that they won't compete with the more established PBA but if there is a common trajectory, both leagues would eventually compete as soon as the growing regional league will become more popular than the corporate-based league. Whatever diamonds in the rough discovered, many of them will soon be playing the PBA.

Regional rivalries will fuel the success of this league based on the premise that my city is better than your city. Soon we will see visiting fans coming in to support the road team. Manila Clasico will become old and bygone basketball ritual.

If the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas will reformat the way basketball leagues are run in the Philippines, I can see the PBA accede to the clamor for a single-season, home-away basketball league by adopting the MPBL and MBA format. If not, they can create a three-tier league format in place with the PBA becoming Division 1, PBA D-League becoming Division 2, and MPBL becoming Division 3. Having a promotion-relegation is a bit too far and it may complicate league management if that will be adopted. Japan's B.League has already implemented it.

Travel costs can be a bit high for a pro team but if ABL teams like Alab Pilipinas managed to do it then I don't see any reason why an MPBL team in the Visayas and Mindanao cannot do it, let alone a much financially-able PBA team. It all boils down to efficient scheduling, improving regional transportation infrastructure, new basketball arenas in the countryside, and stable peace and order situation. Until now, it is just a dream.

Imagine former MBA teams resurrected as MPBL teams like the Pasig Pirates, San Juan Knights, Iloilo Megavoltz, Negros SlashersCebu Gems, and perhaps Manny Pacquiao's very own team.


  1. While the MPBL was seen as a glorified ligang labas then, even until now by some, it has proven to be a viable league. With the passionate support and financial muscle of Pacman, the MPBL may give the PBA a run for its money.

    We also write MPBL stories on



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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, A Glorified "Ligang Labas"?
Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, A Glorified "Ligang Labas"?
It has been quite a while when Filipino basketball fans had experience a basketball league that has a true home-and-away format that the National Basketball Association is known for. Sure we had the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association and now have the regional ASEAN Basketball League but we don't have the stable national league that plays home and away all season long. Until now!
Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger
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