THE Senate on Monday unanimously approved on third and final reading a bill, which seeks to regulate the policies that govern the eligibility status of student-athletes in inter-school competitions such as the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP).

Senator Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate committee on education, arts and culture and sponsor of the bill, said Senate Bill 2226, or the "Student-Athletes Protection Act," proposes that "no residency requirement shall be imposed on a high school student-athlete transferring to another high school or to a college or university to encourage them to participate in sports competition."

In the case of college athletes, transferring from one college or university to another, a maximum period of one-year residency may be imposed by athletic associations, said Cayetano, explaining the bill.

Residency rules require transferees to sit out the incoming school year. In some cases like the UAAP, transferees are restricted from participating in competitive sports for two years.

"One would think that student-athletes would have the pick of schools. But this is not the case for many of them as their right to choose the school they want to study in is restricted by the residency rules imposed by the athletic associations," Cayetano, who was an athlete herself at the University of the Philippines, said.

"It is clear that the residency rules were meant to address piracy. Piracy, when it includes the offer of extravagant luxuries to student athletes, should be prohibited. We must remember that a right to quality education is enshrined in the Constitution," Cayetano said.

Cayetano cited the case of swimmer Mikee Bartolome, who moved from high school to college from the University of Santo Tomas to the University of the Philippines, and was prevented by the UAAP from competing for two seasons.

She said Bartolome was able to secure a temporary restraining order from the court but had to swim under a harsh environment amid a boycott that was reportedly instigated by some UAAP member-schools and league officials who sought to defy the court order.

The proposed legislation also prohibits schools from giving "commercial consideration" to any of its student-athletes or their immediate family members.

"Schools shall not offer a student-athlete or his immediate family members benefits or incentives beyond that enumerated under Section 5, which are contrary to the nature of amateur sports and which may result to the commercialization of a student-athlete," Cayetano said.

Currently, schools are allowed to give incentives to deserving student-athletes including tuition, miscellaneous school fees, books and other learning materials, board and lodging, uniform, equipment, a reasonable living allowance and other similar benefits.

"Everyone has the right to education and the student-athletes should not be stripped of such right and freedom of choice the moment he wears his jersey," Cayetano said. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)