Pandemic ‘time out’ dries up Filipino referees’ per-game wages

July 5, 2021 - 7:15 PM
PBA D-league referee Mark Bongolan and PBA referee Jessie Jarabejo (Artwork by James Patrick Cruz)

As the health crisis unfolded in March last year, the basketball shot clock stopped, requiring players to wait on the benches.

More than a year later, what was presumed to be a temporary time out lasted longer than expected.

Mark Bongolan, a PBA D-league referee, packed his bag on March 11 last year to go home to his province in Isabela and avoid the threats of coronavirus.

“Hindi ko expected [na magatatagal ng ganito], ang paalam ko lang two weeks,” he said in an interview with Interaksyon.

The PBA D-league Aspirant’s Cup was ongoing at that time.

Bongolan even officiated a game between Diliman College Blue Dragons against Builders Warehouse UST, days before the Metro Manila lockdown.

“Bago mag-pandemic, ongoing yung season namin ng PBA D-league,bale nakaka-eight games pa lang kami or six games,” he said.

Aside from Bongolan, Jessie Jarabejo, a referee for more than two decades, had to put down his whistle for a while.

“In na in sa Pilipinas [ang basketball] kahit saan pwedeng mag-basketball, [h]indi ka mawawalan ng trabaho [bilang referee], kaya lang ngayong pandemya bawal mag-basketball,” Jarabejo told Interaksyon.

From taking charge in the hardcourt, Jarabejo is now working on his sideline, as non-professional basketball leagues are still not allowed, while professional leagues are subject to the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).


After losing his job, Jarabejo used his savings to start a small thrift shop in front of his house to earn a living.

“Dahil walang basketball diba, naisip nung panganay ko na babae na mag-ukay na lang, mag-tulong na lang kaming dalawa,” Jarabejo said.

Asked how their business is going, the referee said, “Ok naman kahit papaano, nakararaos naman, hindi naman na-ze-zero, hindi naman nagkukulang.”

“Pero iba talaga yung may pinag-re-refreehan ako, anytime talaga meroong [kita],” he said.

Games pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, Jarabejo said that they almost never run out of games to officiate, especially during summer.

“Siguro pinakamababang game ko limang beses sa isang araw kasi minsan ini-invite kami sa mga probinsya, stay in kami doon, so kahit maghapon kami mag-referee ok lang,” Jarabejo said.

However, the referee noted that the number of games depends on the league.

“Kapag-ini-invite kami sa province libre na yung accommodation, libre pagkain, kaya nakaka-miss mag-referee talaga,” he recalled.

In amateur leagues, Jarabejo said that he used to earn around P 400 to 500 per game.

For professional leagues like PBA, Jarabejo said that he earns an average of P 20,000 per month.

He noted that the salary depends on the classification of referees.

Referees cry foul

Jarabejo and Bongolan said that in the PBA and PBA D-league, referees are not regular employees.

“Sa isang conference tumatagal lang ng three months, so ayun lang piprimahan namin [na kontrata],” Jarabejo, who has been working in PBA for 10 years, said.

Bongolan, who has been officiating in the PBA D-league for three years, said they sign their contract every season.

“Tumatagal yung isang season ng six months, kasi sa isang year dalawang season,” he expounded.

As contractual workers, both said that they shoulder their own SSS, Philhealth, and Pagibig.

Although, Jarabejo said that the prestigious league provides them health cards.

“Pero nung time ng pandemic nakatulong naman yung PBA kasi tuloy pa rin yung sweldo namin ng ilang buwan kahit walang game kasi naka-kontrata kami doon,” he added.

Like Jarabejo, Bongolan said they still receive monthly basic pay from PBA D-league until January of this year.

“Nung tuloy-tuloy yung sahod namin, tuloy-tuloy din naman yung training namin sa kanila. Nag-zo-zoom workout kami, three times a week, habang pinag-pa-planuhan nila yung bubble, pati kami nag-work from home,” Bongolan said expressing his gratitude to the league.

Asked why the monthly payments stopped, Bongolan said, “ang sabi lang sa amin, need daw muna i-disband ang PBA D-league referees, siguro kasi ang alam ko wala nang fund para sa amin for a while, kapag nakabalik na ganoon pa rin naman.”

Both Bongolan and Jarabejo expressed their hopes of becoming regular employees in the respective leagues they are officiating.

“Para sa akin sana regular na lang [kaming mga referees] para hindi na palit ng palit ng referee,” Jarabejo said, “sayang rin yung itatagal mo tapos bigla ka na lang maalis.”

Bongolan agrees to this, saying “Yun nga rin yung isang hiling namin [na maging regular employee] pero wala kaming boses para masabi sa kanila yun,”

Bouncing back

To keep the ball rolling, basketball games are allowed in moderate-risk and low-risk areas with the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases following strict health protocols based on the framework by the Philippine Sports Commission.

The Metro Manila Development Authority said PBA players, coaches, and staff will be included in their vaccination program as they fall under the A4 category.

READ: MMDA to include PBA players in vaccination

A few international and national basketball games were conducted under a bubble. This include the recently concluded FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers and last year’s PBA conference in Clark, Pampanga.

PBA eyes to kickstart season 46 of the league this month as PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial is scheduled to meet with IATF-EID.

RELATED: PBA making strides in preparations for Season 46

Despite the gleam of hope given by these basketball bubbles, the referees said these bubble games are not enough to house the shedload of Filipino basketball players who dreamt of going back to the hardcourt, more so the referees who lost their source of livelihood.

“Kailangan namin ‘to [basketball] e, bilang isang nawalan ng hanap buhay, bilang isang nawalan ng trabaho sa field ng basketball talagang walang referees,” Bongolan said.