By Mark Angelo Mañez

PHOTO: Rappler

MANILA -- The House Committee on Justice gave the nod granting Angelo Kouame and Bienvenido Marañon Filipino citizenship on Thursday, a step required for the athletes to compete under the Philippine flag.

“Maraming salamat po!” said the Ivorian cager Kouame as lawmakers moved to approve the two separate measures which are all scheduled to be tackled on Monday before the House plenary.

The committee report on House Bill No. 5951 filed by Deputy Speaker Roberto Puno was filed in December last year seeking to grant Kouame Filipino citizenship.

A separate committee report on the substitute bill to consolidate 3 House bills seeking to grant Marañon was also approved.

The Philippines is set to host the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup with Japan and Indonesia.

“We saw you in Ateneo and the way you grabbed those rebounds and the defense. With Kai Sotto and Ange Kouame together in 2023 in Manila, I think we will have the most formidable frontline ready to compete against America and other countries,” said Valenzuela 2nd District Rep. Eric Martinez.

The objective to naturalize Kouame is to “create a pool of naturalized players” if another player gets injured or if certain problems with players arise, Puno explained.

He also pointed out during the hearing that Kouame has been living in the country since 2016 which makes him different from other athletes who were given naturalized citizenship.

“Pagalingan ngayon ng pag-naturalize ng players because in the world now, the definition of a national team is, 11 natural-born players and one naturalized player. It is up to congress to naturalize that player so we have to be very good as a House of Representatives to be able to supply a usable and very beneficial naturalized player to the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP)”, said Puno who is also the vice-chairman of SBP.

Marañon was also quizzed in Filipino by the panel’s chairman, Rep. Vicente Veloso III.

“Do you know anybody who could possibly apply for Filipino citizenship kasing galing mo, ita-Tagalog na kita, and kasing galing ni Ronaldo and Messi?” asked Veloso.

“Very difficult to have the body of them, especially from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they are the best,” said Marañon.

He added: “In my case I will try to do my best... I hope to work with Azkals as a Filipino. I would like my dream to come true.”

Martinez also mentioned to the House panel the legendary Spanish Filipino football player Paulino Alcantara who held the most goals scored for FC Barcelona with 369 goals in 357 matches which was only broken, after 87 years, by Lionel Messi in 2014.