What Did We Do To Wesley So?

[Originally posted on 29 August 2017, revised as of 15 April 2014 by GlobalPinoy]

Much noise had been generated since around this time last year when the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) ignored Wesley So’s gold medal finish at the World University Games held in Kazan, Russia, in July 2013. A year later, the issue went viral (as netizens—so called—love to say) when Wesley So requested permission from the NCFP (and brusquely denied) to transfer to the United States Chess Federation (USCF).

There were times when I thought opposing sides got too noisy for a kibitzer’s comfort that I felt compelled to join the fray, sharing my throughts on the issue, such as dropping online comments here and there. When the the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) came up with an editorial on the matter (So’s Gambit Declined, 26 July 2014), I had this nagging suspicion that half-lies may have gotten the better of exchanges. This prompted me to scrape the surface, as it were, and try to dig more facts. This report presents what I found.

But before I proceed, two things:

Note 1: For those who do not normally follow chess (and know little, if at all, about Wesley So) but may have the patience and time to read this report, a word about him. He is a chess prodigy. At 14, he became a grandmaster—only 7 players in all of chess history reached this level at a faster pace; both Garry Kasparov, world champion at age 22, and Bobby Fisher, world champion at age 29, became grandmasters at age 15. Born in Bacoor, Cavite, in 1993, Wesley So also says he is “a proud Filipino, always will be a Filipino at heart, and never forget where I came from.”

Wesley So in barong
Wesley So always wears barong during awarding ceremonies (and he has won all top-level tournaments he entered since 2015: Bilbao Masters Champion in 2015, Champion of Sinquefield Cup, London Chess Classic and Grand Chess Tour in 2016, Tata Steel Champion–ahead of World Champion and No. 1 in the Ratings List Magnus Carlsen of Norway–and US Champion in 2017). As of April 2017, he is currently No. 2 in the world, behind only Carlsen. He is currently on a 67-no-loss-game streak. No Filipino athlete, except probably Manny Pacquiao, has reached a level of excellence like he did (one may add that boxing’s pound for pound ratings are subjective, while the ELO ratings of chess are not). In contrast, Gilas Pilipinas is No. 27 in FIBA rankings; Azkals are No. 127. Sports officials have yet to accord the honor he deserves. The Philippine Sports Association, which in the past honored Fil-Ams or Ams like Dorothy Delasin (Golf) and Brian Viloria (Boxing). Makes one wonder why. Hint: In 2013 he played in the Universiade (Russia) representing an association that Peping Cojuangco did not like (please read on for details). He won the gold medal (first for any Filipino athlete) but did not receive money incentives for his feat, which violated pertinent law/regulations at the time.

Note 2: As I searched for materials for this report, I requested through email NCFP Chair/President Prospero “Butch” Pichay and PSC Chair Ricardo Garcia for an appointment. I said granting me their precious time for an interview would be appreciated. No reply from Pichay. Chair Garcia’s staff replied to ask what questions I wished to raise with the PSC Chair. I replied with my questions, 3 of them are copied below:

  • What is the specific PSC policy that allows it to grant incentives to athletes who win medals in international competitions like the Olympics? (There are laws, we know, but I was interested to see the finer points that may be found in the Implementing Rules and Regulations.)
  • Did Wesley So receive any amount of incentive for winning the Chess gold in the World University Games?
  • If he did not, as reports suggested, what violation of the rules (PSC or NCFP) did he commit to not qualify for the grant of the incentive?

I also emailed Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Chair Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr., to ask more or less the same questions. Too inconsequential to merit attention, I guess. Zero reply from The Revered Tito.

PDI’s Nonsense

Now, to my rant.

I thought the PDI was off the mark when it said “[Wesley So] has refused to play under the Philippine flag in the World Chess Olympiad next week unless Philippine chess authorities allow him to play under the Stars and Stripes after that.”

Factual reporting would have compelled one to cite the string of events that pushed him away from playing for the Philippines. Instead, the PDI settled for hubris, its logic crumbling under the weight of the editorial’s gibbirish nonsense.

In my view, both push and pull factors contributed to what the PDI has charged as Wesley So’s refusal to play under the Philippine flag (the World Chess Olympiad being mentioned was held in Tromso, Norway, on 2-14 August 2014). I wish to discuss those factors, and in the process explain why the PDI’s Wesley So editorial stinks.

Let me cite some portions of that article:

“Defying the directive of sports leaders to compete elsewhere, he decided to play unsanctioned at the World University Games in Russia where he beat a formidable field to win the gold medal. But he got neither official recognition nor reward for the feat. (The Philippine Sports Commission said that, under the law, the Universiade was not on the list of events where incentives were given for medal winners.)”

The World University Games (or “Universiade,” from the words “University” and “Olympiad”) is held biennially under the supervision of International University Sports Federation (also known by its French acronym as FISU). The FISU is recognized by both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Chess Federation (also known by its French acronym as FIDE). It is therefore by whim that either the NCFP or the PSC or the POC would say the Universiade in which Wesley So won a gold medal could not be sanctioned by any of the country’s concerned sports organizations.

What the Inquirer failed to point out was the nasty quarrel between the Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (FESSAP) and the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) over FISU’s accreditation. At Kazan, Russia, during the Universiade, UAAP’s FISU membership (already endorsed by the FISU President and whose representatives were already seated at the areas reserved for bonafide members), was only prevented when the assembly voted against UAAP following pleas by FESSAP representatives for plenary voting on the issue.

Josef Ramos of The Manila Times wrote a story about that incident (“War Is Not Over” on 3 August 2013):

The UAAP’s attempt to kick the FESSAP out of the Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire (FISU) was a huge and well-deserved failure.

At the general assembly of the world body, the UAAP application to replace the Federation of School Sports Associations as the legitimate Philippine representative at FISU was roundly defeated.

The delegation from the UAAP… had inexplicably succeeded in placing on the agenda the removal of the FESSAP and the admission of UAAP in FESSAP’s place.

FESSAP, as the extant, legally established FISU-member Philippine organization was never formally informed of the UAAP moves by the FISU’s French president Claude Gallien.

But, with the support of the members of FISU at the general assembly against the will of the body’s president, the FESSAP fought for and won its right to continue being the recognized Filipino body in FISU.

The UAAP attempt to dislodge FESSAP is one more instance of how politics—control of sports leadership by nationally known, wealthy and powerful figures—has become more important than sports development and giving every Filipino a chance to grow in his or her chosen athletic field.

Former national swimmer Atty. Maria Luz Arzaga-Mendoza, now one of the country’s most successful legal eagles, told The Times how she and the rest of the FESSAP delegates prevented the FESSAP’s expulsion, which would have been against FISU rules had it succeeded.

“Somebody told me I should be in Kazan, the capital of the Russian Republic of Tarkistan, by July 3 so I could be at the July 3 to 4 FISU general assembly because we would be removed,” Arzaga-Mendoza told The Manila Times.

“Somebody—the UAAP group—will be admitted to the FISU and take over your spot—our source there in Kazan told me,” Arzaga-Mendoza said.

With the others, Arzaga-Mendoza immediately flew to Kazan. On arrival, she immediately went to see FISU President Claude Gallien to ask him what was happening and why the status of FESSAP was being changed without FESSAP being told about it.

The 6’7? Frenchman told her not to make any trouble because the UAAP’s application to become FISU’s newest member, representing the Philippines and replacing FESSAP was a done deal among the FISU leadership and would be announced during the general assembly.

“We were being bullied. But we never lost hope. There is such a thing as the law and the rules of the organization. I resolved not to allow the towering FISU president, who told me his decision was backed by the best legal minds. I told him he just happened to be dealing with also one of the best lawyers in my part of the world,” the feisty former champion swimmer told us.

“I told Gallien that page by page, from start to the last, I know the law and the rules governing FISU, “ she added. Their acrimonious meeting ended with FESSAP not being given the proper seats as a FISU member and with Gallien telling her that she would not be allowed to speak at the session hall.

Before the general assembly began she and the other FESSAP delegates saw that the UAAP contingent were being given seats that should have been for FESSAP’s delegates.

The UAAP representatives were UAAP Board member Ricky Palou, Emmanuel Fernandez and Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Secretary-General Steve Hontiveros. They behaved like proper delegates like those from the other 166 countries that are members of FISU.

The three-man UAAP delegation, headed by Ricky Palou of Ateneo de Manila, flew in from Manila to Kazan with the mission to convince the FISU general assembly to remove FESSAP and accept UAAP as the Philippines’ sole representative to the Lausanne, Switzerland-based global university sports body.

“He (Gallien) was pressured by the general assembly not to remove us although there was already a plan to strike out our membership,” said Arzaga-Mendoza. “God is good with us despite all the pressure we’ve felt during that day.”

She mentioned that it was after she spoke to some members of the FISU legal commission that Gallien appears to have changed.

She had attempted to be recognized from the floor but the presiding officer kept ignoring her until someone on stage, perhaps the United States delegate, said, “Let her speak.”

She was finally recognized and gave the speech that moved the delegates into giving her a a big round of applause.

So on the final day of general assembly the FISU president announced that FESSAP would remain the official representative of the Philippines due to its good standing as an active member since 2009. It was declared that the application for admission of the UAAP group was turned down.

But overall only 29 student athletes under FESSAP participated in Universiade while more than 50 were disallowed by their respective schools due to the dispute between FESSAP and the UAAP.

As many people now know, Wesley So was one of the 83 athletes that were selected by FESSAP to compete for the country in the 2013 Universiade. However, only 29 athletes were able to actually participate in Kazan, as some of the schools belonging to UAAP (with threat to suspend belligerents for one year) pulled out their students at the last minute.

It is also important to mention that the UAAP delegation came to Kazan armed with letters of endorsements from the POC President Jose Cojuangco Jr., among others.

Cojuangco fumed at FESSAP and dismissed it as unqualified to select athletes who are fit to compete in international competitions.

This was how Reuben Terrado of Spin.ph (Philippine delegation to World University Games denied POC recognition,” 23 April 2013) put it:

POC president Jose ‘Peping’ Cojuangco said the body has no idea on the competence or legitimacy of the delegation and has told the organizing Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (Fessap) that the POC is not authorizing them to represent the country in the Games… “Kasi mahirap, they will be wearing the Philippine flag. We don’t know if they are competent or legitimate.” [Emphasis by Inkdrops]

Cojuangco said that in the past, the POC had authorized the UAAP to form a Philippine team for the Universiade but he does not know why and how Fessap gained the right to form and send a delegation to the multi-sport event starting in 2011.

Wesley So in Kazan 2013

Like what Cojuangco thought, Wesley So did wear the Philippine flag in the competion, and for the first time in Philippine sports history, that flag was raised in the podium above all other flags [of at least more than a hundred] after Wesley So won the gold medal in Chess.Cojuangco also said that “while the Philippine team won a silver medal in the [2011] Games, its basketball team then—-led by now Petron center June Mar Fajardo—-lost all their games in lopsided fashion,” as if Philippine sports depended only on basketball.

POC Chair and Presidential Uncle Jose
POC Chair and Presidential Uncle Jose “Peping” Cojuangco

For winning the gold medal in Chess, Wesley So made Cojuangco eat his words. Poor Wesley So, he must have thought his only concern in every competition was to win his games; he probably did not know that losing games would have made somebody look smart.

Given the above context, it is therefore clear that the PDI made a mess out of logic in its 26 July 2014 editorial when it said “[Wesley So] decided to play unsanctioned at the World University Games in Russia…” because there would have been no issue at all if it was the UAAP, and not FESSAP, that sent him to Kazan.

Let me now turn to the matter of incentives. This, too, must be clarified.

The editorial said “the Philippine Sports Commission said that, under the law, the Universiade was not on the list of events where incentives were given for medal winners.”

There are at least two legal bases for the grant of incentives to athletes for meritorious performance in international competitions.

The first is RA 9064 (Sports Incentives Act)which grants cash incentives for “national athletes who win gold, silver and bronze medals in international competitions,” where international competitions is defined as “international sports competitions which are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC)….” This law allows the grant of, in Philippine pesos, amounts of 5 million, 2.5 milion, 1 million and .1 million to gold medalists (individual competitions) in Olympic Games, quadrennial World Championships, Asian Games, SEA Games, respectively.

As mentioned earlier, the FISU which supervises the Universiade is one of IOC’s recognized organizations. In the 22nd Universiade in Korea (participated in by 174 countries), then IOC President Dr. Jacques Rogge was quoted as commending the Universiade’s “high level of competition.”

Because the Universiade is a biennial event, Wesley So should have at least merited monetary incentives accorded to SEA Games gold medalists. However, PSC Chair Garcia himself thought that the Universiade was at a higher level than the SEA Games, as quoted by Joey Villar in his Philippine Star report on January 11, 2014.

The second is Administrative Order No. 352, s. 1997. Issued by President Fidel Ramos on July 24, 1997, this directive authorizes the grant by the PSC of a “One-Time Gratuity Award … to all living bemedalled athletes who have participated in past Olympics, Asian Games and World Championships and those who have distinguished themselves in sports events with at least a continental impact (e.g. Asian Games).”

Despite what to many would appear as more than adequate legal basis for the grant of monetary award to Wesley So for his gold medal finish in the Universiade, neither the NCFP, PSC nor POC made an effort to grant him the award he deserved. Not even a plaque of appreciation, or a gentle pat, or tap, at the back.

For ordinary talents, nothing can be more demotivating than suggestions that you do not exist; for big dawgs like Wesley So, a snub slaps you like gross amounts of insults. “No player should be treated this way,” he says, “especially when I worked so hard to bring pride to my country.”

If it was by any consolation, he got from Canada what was denied of him by his country: an official congratulatory handshake.

By denying Wesley So the recognition and monetary incentives he deserved, his country did not only become an offending party to an irrevocable inequity, the Philippines also became a freeloader of what he does to promote the country whenever he competes in the world stage. Worse, in an unfortunate side event at the Tromso Olympiad, the NCFP (through its officials Pichay and Raul Canobas) did not only dismiss Wesley So, it thoroughly humiliated him.

For purposes of approximating the context by which one may look at how Wesley So deserved the recognition that was not accorded to him, there are legislative proposals that are currently pending in Congress (all of which appear to have been filed with the issue of Wesley So in mind: (1) Senate Bill No. 649 (by Sen. Trillanes)—which aims, among other things, to create a Department of Sports and “to encourage the participation of Filipino athletes in regional and international sports 21 competitions including but not limited to the South East Asian Games, the Asian 22 Games, the Olympics, the Paralympics, the Universiade or World University Games…” [emphasis by Inkdrops] and with the power to “to confer, extend and grant awards, benefits and privileges to athletes, coaches and officials for outstanding performances in national and international competitions”; and (2) Senate Bill 96 (By Senator Sotto) and Senate Bill 921 (by Senator Recto)—which seek to amend RA 9064 to further strenthen the system of granting cash and other non-monetary benefits and incentives to national athletes…(and redefining, among other things, international competitions as follows: “international sports competitions which are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), international sports federations (ISFs) or international governing bodies for the sports being participated in by no less than 45 countries…”; the Recto Bill further allows the grant of Php 2.5 million for gold medalists [individual competitions] in world championships).

The PDI indulged in nitpicking when other things mattered:

“In the past 10 years, So has been the most pampered chess player in the Philippines, receiving P40,000 a month from the PSC and getting extra from several sources, including the personal funds of the NCFP’s controversial head, former congressman Prospero Pichay. Not even Torre enjoyed such support.”

The very reason why the PSC and NCFP exist is to find and develop talent. We found one in Wesley So. We developed his talent. But did we create conditions for him to excel and achieve his full potential?

We did not. In fact, with the harshest of diatribes, we pushed him away.

Battle of Grandmasters - Wesley So Billboard
In the US, it is about the school, but they promote the chess player; in the Philippines, it is about Chess, but we promote politicians.

In August 2012, Wesley So enrolled at the Webster University in St. Louise, Missouri, USA, as an athletic scholar, taking up business administration and computer studies. The scholarship, made available through the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) Program, offered him opportunities not only to earn college education but also an environment where he c ould further develop his skills, discipline, and character as a chess player. The SPICE program requires its scholars to pass Webster’s academic requirements, and to undergo not only an intensive chess training program with mentors and peers but also a rigorous physical fitness regimen.

This is the basic condition, or environment, in which serious chess players must be nurtured and developed. For the PDI to say that Wesley So has been the most pampered athlete for getting fringe benefits from the government is to miss the idea behind the grant of such incentives.

At his highest live rating, Wesley So was number 12 in the world. A chess ranking is unique for each player (unlike in amateur boxing, for example, where up to at least 11 gold medalists emerge from one Olympic competition). In professional boxing, pound-for-pound rankings provide a unique ranking for each boxer, but the problem there is that there are as many pound-for-pound rankings as there are many boxing fans (one boxing website ranks Canelo Alvarez at No. 12 in its current list, for example, which puts Wesley So in chess where Alvarez is in boxing).

In football, Chile is ranked number 12 where the Philippines is ranked number 128! In FIBA world basketball, China is number 12 where the Philippines is number 34.

My point is this: Wesley So is an extraordinary athlete. He deserves extraordinary attention from those who are tasked to create conditions for talents like him to grow and excel.

John Stuart Mill, the British political-economist-philosopher, said: “Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow.”

Clearly, therefore, the grant of incentives (allowed by law) is not meant to pamper an athlete; it is to preserve the soil in which he or she grows. And clearly, what the PDI sees as pampering is a paltry gesture in comparison to the fertile soil being made available to Wesley So at Webster University.

Wesley So and Philippine Flag
Wesley So and his flag

Before his transfer to the US Chess Federation, the Philippine flag was up every time Wesley So saw action in chess competitions. If the Philippines spends millions of pesos to promote “Wow Philippines” and “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” the country freerides on the image of excellence projected by renowned international athletes such boxer Manny Pacquiao and chess grandmaster Wesley So. Short of calling him a brat, the PDI left-handed compliment saying that Wesley So [was] a pampered athlete is oblivious of the contributions Wesley So brings to promote the Philippine flag and Filipino pride.

But one can assume that even such a formidable pull factor was not enough for Wesley So to decide in favor of switching federation from the Philippines to the United States. With proper coordination, nothing prevented him from fulfilling his commitments to the NCFP as one of its elite members even if he was enrolled as a full-time student at, and a model athlete of, Webster University. But the brusque manner by which the NCFP dismissed Wesley So was the one last straw that pushed him away from playing for the Philippines.

In November 2013, or 4 months after his snub by the Lords of Chess in the Philippines, Wesley So officially sought his transfer from the NCFP through a letter. In that letter, he also offered to play in the Tromso Olympiad representing the Philippines for one last time.

Pichay denied having received this letter.

As the deadline (June 1, 2014) for submission of names of federation representatives drew closer, Wesley So sent another letter with the same message, and some further elaboration of the first letter, to Pichay. I re-print verbatim below the second letter:

Dear Cong Pichay,
I would like to share my thoughts about changing federations. I hope you have the time to read my letter. I appreciate your understanding in advance.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your past support. I am proud to be Filipino, and I will always be a Filipino at heart. I will never forget where I came from.

However, circumstances have changed. My family has permanently moved to Canada. I now live and attend school full time in the United States (at Webster University). I plan to reside permanently here. This is where I will have the opportunity to improve my chess, and make a decent living as a professional player. I want to be able to play in top level tournaments … to get to the next level.

I have filed the paperwork to switch federation to the US last year. I respectfully ask that you grant me this opportunity and consent my transfer.

If you choose not to approve my transfer request, I have no way of paying the 50,000 euros fees to the NCFP. Therefore, I will have no choice but to sit out another year to fulfill my full two year waiting period so no transfer fees are needed. This will not benefit the NCFP at all. However, it will severely slow down my progress by not being able to play in official FIDE events such as the World Cup, World Blitz and Rapid Championships, etc. I will be forced to miss the next World Championship cycle.

Because of the 2-year waiting period rule of FIDE, I am not able to compete in the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai next week. I will also not be able to compete in the upcoming Olympiad in Norway.
This is not an easy decision. But it is the best decision for me to have a chance to be a top 10 player in the world, and perhaps one day fight for the World Championship crown. I hope you will support my decision and allow me to make this change immediately so I can have a chance to chase my dream without losing more valuable time at this very important age.

Thank you!

Respectfully yours,
Wesley So

Again, there was no reply from the NCFP. At this point he accepted USCF’s offer for him to coach the US Team at the Olympiad.

But on July 3, 2014, or more than a month after the deadline, Wesley So received an email from the NCFP Secretariat informing him that he was included in the line-up of the Philippine Team competing in Tromso. The decision was made without consultation, and at a time when Wesley So was already contracted to coach the US Team.

For PDI to say that “[Wesley So] has refused to play under the Philippine flag in the World Chess Olympiad next week unless Philippine chess authorities allow him to play under the Stars and Stripes after that,” was to accept NCFP’s high-handed manner by which it assumed Wesley So was under its beck and call, without regard to context and the key facts related to the issue.

And, finally, the PDI becomes hubris: “[Wesley] So will be watching from limbo, a victim of his dreams—or his ambition.”

I think a more sensitive comment of the situation would have highlighted the fact that Wesley So is chasing not only a dream to become a world chess championship contender but also to become a college degree holder. In the end he may not be the great chess player that he can become, but earning a college education is something that every Filipino youngter can aim for, and for which no one should be tagged as a victim, or worse, rediculed for nurturing such an ambition.

[April 2017 update: Partly due to misundertandings with Paul Truong, who co-manages the SPICE Program at Webster University with his wife Susan Polgar, Wesley So left Webster in 2014 and decided to launch his full-time professional career in chess.]

Tenacity of One’s Foolishness

One side event at the Tromso Olympiad that shocked observers was the Wesley So-Pichay meeting. As mentioned, while Wesley So was not playing for any country in the Olympiad, he was there as Coach of the US Team. Pichay was also in attendance as a voting representative of the NCFP (2014 was a FIDE election year).

Hoping that something good might come out of a face-to-face meeting with Pichay, Wesley So requested one where he also sought in the meeting the presence of Susan Polgar and Paul Truong.

From Kazan To Tromso, Filipinos Embarassing Filipinos Continue

While the Cojuangco-supported UAAP publicly provoked FESSAP to engage the latter in a verbal fracas in Kazan, pinoys humiliated their own kind in Tromso.

Paul had an account of what happened during that meeting (posted in his FB account), which I copy (in part) below:

NCFP Meeting Update:

We finally had a meeting with Mr. Pichay today. The meeting was scheduled for 6pm. Wesley, Susan, and I waited and he was not there. We waited until 6:15pm then we had to go because Susan had to do a daily Press Conference at 6:30 pm.

After the Press Conference, Wesley found Mr. Pichay. But he decided not to meet us alone. He brought with him 2 additional people. The first one he introduced to us was Mr. Canobas, VP of the NCFP, and the second one was Mr. Legaspi, board member of the NCFP.

The conversation started out on friendly term for about 2 minutes. Then I was immediately attacked for updating the facts on this issue on Facebook. They considered this a personal attack to Mr. Pichay. I responded by saying that I am not attacking anyone. All I did was state the facts, and I asked them to point out any wrong info. They could not. All they kept repeating is it is your facts, not ours. I then asked them please tell me what I wrote wrong. They refused. They said why should they respond to me? Who am I? This is not my business. I explained to them that I am his coach, and I also represent Wesley in chess related matters because his Mother asked me to help him. Mr. Canobas said to show them the contract. Susan then said that our agreement with Wesley is not of their concerns.

Even though Wesley confirmed to Mr. Pichay and Mr. Canobas about my position, Mr. Canobas said that unless we can show them a contract, this matter is not our business. He then attacked us and accused us of making money off Wesley. We explained to him that not only we do not make a penny from Wesley, we put in our own time and money to help him. It appears that he does not believe in the concept of anyone helping others without any personal benefits.

Then Mr. Canobas started to shout at me, saying that I should not use foul language. Susan said what foul language? No one used any foul language and for Mr. Canobas to please lower his tone. He did not. He kept on trying to bully us throughout the entire meeting. The bottom line is the following:

– Mr. Pichay said that he would personally consent the transfer but the board refused. In addition, he cannot do it because Mr. Garcia of the PSC will cut $500,000 in funding to the NCFP immediately. I explained that according to the interview(s), Mr. Garcia said that Mr. Pichay is the one who can make the decision and no funding will be lost. Mr. Canobas and Mr. Pichay both said that it is not true and we do not understand how things work in the Philippines. I asked for them to explain to me but they refused. They insisted that they are telling the truth, and the PSC is playing games.

– Mr. Pichay said that even though he likes Wesley; he will not jeopardize the funding to the NCFP from the PSC. This funding will be used to build many more Wesley So. I asked what the difference is between now and 11-12 months later when he is gone anyway? This way he can save his career. They repeated that we do not understand how things work in the Philippines and if they release Wesley, Mr. Garcia will cut the funding to all chess players in the Philippines. Therefore, it is their duty to protect the interest of the chess federation and not Wesley.

– I also said that if he is released now in amicable terms, he will likely come back and gives back to the Philippines when he reaches his goals. If Mr. Pichay personally punishes him now, he will never go back to the NCFP. They will then lose him forever. His answer was he does not care if Wesley comes back or not. That is his decision.

During the meeting, Mr. Legaspi was very respectful and Mr. Pichay showed his political skill by not answering any direct or difficult questions. His position was we just simply do not understand how things work in his country. In the meantime, Mr. Canobas was clearly trying to intimidate us by shouting and raising his voice.

I have never seen anyone treating a woman in this manner, especially a World and Olympiad Champion. It was also very disrespectful for them to ignore both Susan and I on numerous occasions and spoke to Wesley in Tagalog. They basically repeated to him the same mantra about what did they do wrong to him to warrant a federation transfer. It was clear that they were trying to make him feel guilty. Mr. Canobas said that they (the NCFP) built him and our last 2+ years of helping him was irrelevant and it meant nothing. He got his success because of the NCFP.
And when Susan asked them again to speak in English, Mr. Canobas told Mr. Pichay that they should end this useless meeting. Mr. Canobas said that this is a Filipino matter so stay out of it. Then they stormed out of the room without even shaking our hands.

Truong came back with another post the next day:

My thoughts about the meeting with the NCFP last night after a few hours of sleep (additional updates):

My philosophy is simple. I prefer everything to be out in the open. I prefer not to make any deal behind closed doors. 44+ years dealing with chess politicians (since I was 5) taught me this.

This apparently offended Mr. Pichay and Mr. Canobas. They perceived updating the Filipino chess fans about Wesley’s situation is a personal attack to Mr. Pichay and the NCFP. Even though I politely asked several times to please point out any mistake on my part with the updates, they can only reply:

1. These are my facts, not theirs
2. Why should they answer me
3. We do not understand how things work in the Philippines
4. We are not Filipinos and therefore we should stay out of it, etc.

I will continue to update everything publicly and again, I would ask the NCFP to point out any mistake with what I wrote. They obviously read everything I wrote but chose not to reply, the same way they ignored Wesley since last November.

Susan and I both felt so sorry for Wesley. This young man was physically shaken as he was not expecting this bullying session. He was in total shock. He really believed before the meeting that Mr. Pichay cares about him and will sign his consent form right there and then.

Wesley kept on repeating that he appreciates all the help from Mr. Pichay and the NCFP in the past. All he wants is to have a chance to fight for the world title, and he pleaded with Mr. Pichay to let him go.
They paid no attention to what Wesley said. They kept on trying to rattle him. If they can do this to Wesley in front of us and others in the Olympiad VIP lounge, what will they do to him and other Filipino players behind closed doors.

This case is purely about money. Mr. Pichay repeated several times during the meeting that how could he release Wesley after the NCFP paid him approximately $900 a month for something like the last 2 years? And releasing him means the NCFP will lose around $500,000 from the PSC each year.

I have 2 simple questions:

1. How much did Mr. Pichay and/or the NCFP spend for his election against Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Tromso, an election which he had zero chance to win?

2. Mr. Pichay kept insisting that since Susan and I are not Filipinos, we do not understand how things work in the Philippines. Therefore, will Mr. Pichay give all Filipino chess fans the real reason(s) why he will not sign the consent form instead of shifting the blame to Mr. Garcia and the PSC? Why not talk about it publicly?

Perhaps he is afraid the Filipinos chess fans do not understand how things work in the Philippines either?

This interview with Wesley So took place about 20 minutes before the meeting with Mr. Pichay. Wesley was still hopeful that Mr. Pichay would keep his words that he would support Wesley’s dream of reaching the top. We now know that this was never the intention of Mr. Pichay and his NCFP.

He also responded to a facebook comment:

The door was never opened with the NCFP. I was told privately by 3 different people (months ago) who are very familiar with the situation within the NCFP that it was never going to happen. The meeting was never meant to resolve the issues. It was purely designed by the NCFP to intimidate Wesley. Luckily he had the sense to ask us to be with him. They tried to get Wesley to keep quiet. He did not. If Wesley did not speak out publicly in June, this would have been swept under the rugs. Wesley is prepared to sit out the full 2 years (1 year remaining). But he had to shine the light on this situation so the Filipino Chess Fans and Media are aware of why he had to make this switch. No player will have a chance to get to the world class level in this environment. He is fighting this battle to help some of his colleagues and future talents in the Philippines. As long as there are still people who make excuses, defend, and protect the way how the NCFP does business and treats their players, things will never be fixed or get better. If the fans and media do not speak up and take action then Wesley’s sacrifices will be for nothing.

It is now established that Pichay lied through his teeth when he said the PSC will cut government funding allotted for NCFP if the latter released Wesley So to the USCF.

Reports quoted PSC Chair Garcia as saying:

“He (Pichay) must be dreaming. He can release (So) now, tomorrow or whenever and his budget will not be changed. The only amount that will change is the allowance of So. It will be removed.”

This was in reaction to statements attributed to Pichay as Truong had reported.

On why Pichay and company cling with the tenacity, I would say, of a skin disease (to borrow Jose Rizal’s words), to the notion that the issue could not be understood by Greeks, I wish to speculate on the following:

  • Pichay wanted to show to all that Wesley So’s success in chess could be attributed more to acts of goodwill on his part than to anything else. That Polgar and Truong were being seen as defending Wesley So’s interest was deemed as grabbing much credit that was not theirs.
  • Pichay the media-mogul-turned-politician is bred in a political culture where Kings know best. In a world where—again, to loosely quote John Stuart Mill—the one who controls the other’s stomach controls his will, Kings provide. They make lives easy for their subjects in exchange of the latter’s freedom to choose. They buy their way to blood-sucking thrones and principalities and expect those who voted for them by way of patronage to follow them with the loyalty of a puppy. A shift in allegiance could turn nasty, and it is not by coincidence that in areas where political clans and warlords exist, the number of cases of political violence tends to be highest.
  • Viewed therefore from the context of what Pichay called “a Filipino matter”, Wesley So’s jumping ship, so to speak, from NCFP to USCF is a loyalty breach of the same kind, and the bullying he got (along with Polgar and Truong) in Tromso from Pichay and company was a friendly tap compared to what the Ampatuans did to their once-ally, later-deemed-treacherous, political rivals.
  • It is likely Pichay thinks he is the supreme Patron of Philippine chess. At no time in the country’s history has there been a greater harvest of Filipino grandmasters than at this stage when the NCFP had him as its head. For a long time we had one—Eugene Torre (who became grandmaster in 1974)—chess player of consequence. In 1976, along came the late Rosendo Balinas. It took ages for Philippine chess to produce more grandmasters—Joey Antonio (1993), Bong Villamayor (2000), Nelson Mariano II (2004), Mark Paragua (2005), and Darwin Laylo (2007). And then all suddenly in 2008 until 2011 with Pichay at the helm, 9 fresh grandmasters emerged (So and Jayson Gonzales—2008, John Paul Gomez and Joseph Sanchez—2009, Rogelio Barcenilla and Roland Salvador—2010, Julio Catalino Sadorra, Oliver Barbosa and Richard Bitoon—2011). Not even Florencio Campomanes who used to head the Philippine Chess Federation (NCFP’s predecessor) and rose to become FIDE’s president, could claim such an achievement.
  • Pichay in chess reminds one of Danding Cojuanco in basketball. Where Pichay wields chess political power now, Cojuancgo was the most influential basketball patron then. That was the time when Hector Calma and company beat China for the ABC Youth Championship; that was the time when Dennis Still-Jeff Moore-Chiff Engelland-Richardo Brown-Samboy Lim and compnay beat China for the ABC Championship (now FIBA Asia). There is a broadside to the Pichay-Cojuangco parallel: both have been charged in court for fraud, among other crimes. But where one is different from the other, it would probably be that on the one hand Cojuangco has secured the material rewards for the basketball players while, on the other hand, Pichay now acts as if he owns the lives of the chess players.

How NCFP Lost Wesley So

Chess with Dog
Time To Resign: An army (chess fans) attacks a King and solitary pawn (Pichay and Canobas?). If it was an ordinary chess game, it’s obviously a sleeper. But we are in the middle of a mindless power game. A little thought behind a monarch’s move would not have blundered away a prized piece like Wesley So. Can the NCFP beat a K9 like him? I doubt it.

Can Filipinos think?

In 1901, when the US Senate debated on the Treaty of Paris and the related issue of whether the US should colonize the Philippines or grant it its independence, Senator Albert Beveridge influenced his colleagues to vote for annexation of the Philippines by the US. Beveridge said that Filipinos do not have facility for serious thought that is expected from adults, calling them juvenile, and therefore unfit to be granted independence.

Excerpts of a speech he delivered on the floor of the US Senate:

But, senators, it would be better to abandon this combined garden and Gibraltar of the Pacific… than to apply any academic arrangement of self-government to these children. They are not capable of self-government. How could they be? They are not of a self-governing race. They are Orientals, Malays… What alchemy will change the oriental quality of their blood and set the self-governing currents of the American pouring through their Malay veins? ….

…. As a race, their general ability is not excellent. Educators, both men and women, to whom I have talked in Cebu and Luzon, were unanimous in the opinion that in all solid and useful education they are, as a people, dull and stupid….

More than a century later, I would say Beveridge’s impression of the Pinoy (racist and conceited it maybe) is, to a great extent, still true. And I am not only thinking about Pichay. On the other hand, we can, because of Wesley So, say that Filipinos can match the capability of the best thinkers in the world.

And look at what we did to Wesley So.

About the author

GlobalPinoy is a team of kibitzers led by Ingming Aberia. This team is trained in working with communities, and has a mix of academic backgrounds–sociology, economics, public administration, project management, etc. You can read more about the chief kibitzer here.

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