UAAP residency rule vs right to sports | Inquirer Opinion

UAAP residency rule vs right to sports

/ 10:05 PM September 04, 2013

When swimmer Mikee Bartolome sued over the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) residency rule, the UAAP opined to Judge Manuel Sta. Cruz Jr. that “playing in the UAAP is not a right, but a mere privilege.” Bartolome correctly argues this is not only callous and arbitrary, it is unconstitutional and un-Filipino.

As a University of Sto. Tomas high school swimmer, Bartolome dominated the UAAP juniors division with 19 medals (10 of them golds) and a Rookie of the Year award. Bartolome’s dream, however, was to enter the University of the Philippines. Not only was she accepted, UP even offered her a sports scholarship. Her family rejoiced; she could compete alongside her sister, already part of the UP swimming team, and her father Vic, a UP Maroons basketball coach. Her parents, humble government employees, sacrificed much for their Mikee, paying for a private coach and pool.

Only the residency rule barred her dream. A student from a UAAP university’s high school, who attends another UAAP university for college, is prohibited from competing for two years without a release from the first university. UST refused to release Bartolome. Two years is an eternity in that glorious but fleeting last stage of childhood that is college.

Supported by UP alumna Sen. Pia Cayetano, Bartolome sued. Her court filing outright accuses UST of “bitterness” and the UAAP of treating high school athletes as “investments” who should be discouraged from transferring. More poignantly, Bartolome invoked her constitutional right to choose how she is to be educated. The power of this claim must not be cheapened by the UAAP’s ridiculous stand that a student athlete’s right to compete is merely a privilege.


In the 1925 Meyer case, Nebraska passed a law forbidding the teaching of languages other than English to children, to push immigrants to assimilate. The US Supreme Court ruled that a democracy cannot restrict something as fundamental as education. Philippine law has embraced Meyer’s words: “[Liberty] denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

Is sports “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness”? Recall the UP aphorism that studies should not get in the way of one’s education. The right to education goes beyond the classroom. It is made whole by participation in a broader, vibrant campus life.

To a student athlete, this means sports. This means the discipline of jumping into a pool at sunrise, the rapture of victory and the gallantry of sportsmanship. This means the honor of vying to don school colors and be cheered on by one’s community. This means not a commercial, professional league but that special, irreplaceable, once-in-a-lifetime experience that deserves as much protection as the right to sit in a classroom. And Bartolome correctly cited how our Constitution is replete with references to youth, education and sports, enshrining student athletics as part of our national values alongside our renunciation of dictatorship and the primacy of civilian authority.

The residency rule was intended to discourage the aggressive recruiting of star basketball players, yet here is Bartolome  begging entry into a much less glamorous arena. Ironically, UP is hardly in a position to woo athletes with condominiums and cars. UST’s refusal to release her underscores that she is being punished for her choice of university in a way that offends our society’s most deeply held values.


The residency rule fails the basic constitutional test of equality. Why is Bartolome treated differently from a student who attended a non-UAAP high school? Why is she treated differently from a student granted a release? Why is she captive to the “bitterness” she decries? As Senator Cayetano argues: “What did Mikee do wrong? She has so much talent but she cannot play and carry the color of the school that she goes to.”

It is sad how our students’ rights are sometimes still trivialized. Recall how St. Therese’s College in Cebu punished high school students over bikini photos (taken at a private activity with parents present) posted on Facebook, then brazenly defied a court order to allow the girls to attend their graduation. In one jurist’s words, students do not “shed their constitutional rights… at the schoolhouse gate.”


Fortunately for Bartolome, Judge Sta. Cruz issued a 20-day restraining order, allowing her to swim for UP in the September UAAP matches. He documented how Bartolome has been unable to focus on both studies and swimming and stands to lose her sports scholarship. He decried “rules that would defeat the purpose of athletic competition” and ordered that “talents and gifts like hers should be given the best of opportunity to develop and grow.”

When UP students clamor for budgetary priority to education, they articulate that education is a constitutional right, not a privilege. When Senator Cayetano defended the Reproductive Health Act before the Supreme Court, she asserted women’s constitutional right to informed choice, an argument traced all the way to the Meyer case. In the same vein, Bartolome now asserts her constitutional right to compete.

UP fight!

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Oscar Franklin Tan (@oscarfbtan, teaches Constitutional Law in the University of the East. His argument for decisional privacy, “Articulating the Complete Philippine Right to Privacy” [82(4) Phil. L.J. 78 (2008)], was cited in jurisprudence.

TAGS: Commentary, opinion, Oscar Franklin Tan, sports, Swimming, UAAP, UP, UST

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