So fails to get release; will sit out one more year


By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – Wesley So will sit out another year after the Philippines’ top chess player failed to secure a release from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP), the country ruling chess body.

Rated No. 12 in the world, So will be banned from competing in FIDE-sanctioned tournaments, including the World Cup, World Team championships, and World Championships, where he hoped to make his mark.

Despite meeting with Butch Pichay Jr., the NCFP chief in the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, and pleading his case, So could not secure his transfer to the US chess federation.

A year ago, he started playing for Webster University in the United States, and his coaches, Susan Polgar and Paul Troung convinced him to move to the United States to gain more sophisticated training and more opportunity to compete in world-class tournaments.

Troung, who accompanied So to the meeting with Pichay said that despite sitting out, So will be stronger and more motivated.

” He will continue to grow, on and off the chess board,: Troung said in a Facebook posting. “He is such a good person and it is too bad that some chess politicians care more about their personal and political interests than to help Wesley reach his goals.”

So’s situation is rather complicated. Considered one of the country’s top athletes, he receives a monthly stipend of 40,000 pesos from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC)

In addition, the NCFP receives yearly subsidy from the PSC, and some say the NCFP will lose this annual allotment if it lets its top athlete go.

But in a statement, Richie Garcia, head of the PSC, said he wishes So good luck in his transfer.

“Even if he finally decides to switch from the NCFP to the USCF, he will always be Filipino,” Garcia said.

He added that the PSC will not stop its subsidy of P15-million a year to the NCFP, one of the highest given to any NSA, if So is released.

For the Philippine team that competed in the Norway Chess Olympiad, the PSC provided P1.9 million in budget, Garcia said.

In the Norway meeting with the NCFP officils, Truong said that So never had  chance and the decision not to release him has already been done.

“The door was never open,” Truong said. “The meeting was never meant to resolve anything. He is fighting this battle to help some of his colleagues and future talents in the Philippines.

So, who coached the US team that placed 14th in the Chess Olympiad, can still compete in other tournments, such as the NCAA, but his inability to participate in FIDE tournaments will kill his chances of moving forward in the world rankings.








So’s fate in limbo

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – The fate of the country’s top chess player remains in limbo after a meeting between his manager and NCFP President Butch Pichay Jr. failed to resolve the transfer issue.

Posting on his Facebook page from Tromson, Norway, where the Chess Olympiad is being held, Paul Troung, Wesley So’s, manager, said a meeting with Pichay did not lead to any amicable settlement.

The 20-year old So, now No. 12 in the world, is seeking to transfer to the United States Chess Federation, and is currently acting as coach to the U.S. team in the Chess Olympiad.

A year ago, he joined the Webster University chess team, which is coached by GM Susan Polgar, Troung’s wife.

Troung said in his Facebook post that Pichay finally met them in Norway, and the Filipino chess leader brought with him two officials of the NFCP.

Pichay allegedly said that to release So would be to jeopardize the government funding to the chess body, which is provided by the Philippine Sports Commission.

In addition, So receives 40,000 pesos a month as government subsidy for top-rated athletes.

The World Chess Federation, or FIDE, sets some strident rules on transfering from one federation to another.

According to FIDE’s handbook, a player may transfer to a new federation immediately provided the old federation does not object, something that So wishes.

Otherwise, the transfer become complicated, including payment of fees and sitting out as long as two years, in which the player is prohibited from participating in any competition.

So hoped to avoid all the complications by a simple release from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines, Troung said.

Circle of Friends

At Aria Hotel in 2012

At Aria Hotel in 2012

By Bert Eljera

Part 10

LAS VEGAS – After  a couple of failed relationships, I can say with some certainty now that I have finally found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.

It has come full circle for me, a 360-degree turn around that essentially brought me back to the place where I had come from.

Just a “bangalog” (swamp) separates Balud from Songco, but for Christie (Tita) and myself (Norbing), it took more than 40 years and the magic of the Internet for our paths to cross again.

Good thing, we both were also in the crossroads of our lives, and our eyes were open to new possibilities. Just fate? Or, could it have been destiny?

So now we find ourselves in another Circle of Friends, a small but certainly an important one, the most important, in fact, as I pursue this struggle to prolong my life with a kidney transplant.

Hospitals, doctors, nurses, medicines and lab tests seem to be the common denominator of our relationship. It could have been a big turn-off for her – or any woman for that matter.

Just days after we met for the first time in Jacksonville, Florida, I landed in the hospital. (no, not because of what you’re thinking, but my transplanted kidney was showing signs of failing). This was back in 2010.

The day after we decided to move to Las Vegas in February, 2011, I was back in the hospital again, this time with some heart problems.

Still, she didn’t throw in the towel. She has endured spending the night curled in a hospital couch, walked long distances under a searing Las Vegas sun or the numbing cold of winter, and shared yucky hospital food with me.

Personal complications aggravated the situations with both of us coming from broken marriages. Yet we pulled through, thanks mainly for the support of benevolent people, most especially Dr. Nimfa Raagas Aguila, who provided help in every possible way.

The first of several hospitalizations over the past four years. This one in Jacksonville, Florida in 2010.

The first of several hospitalizations over the past four years. This one in Jacksonville, Florida in 2010.

Her sons, Alex and Anthony, were like family, and her friends and relatives became quite close to us too, providing us comfort and support.

We found time to set up charities and non-profits, such as the Borongan Historical and Cultural Society with the intention of operating a library and museum in Borongan City, and created the Eastern Samar chapter of the Philippine National Red Cross.

A now-operational blood bank is the result of the efforts of Dr. Aguila and Dr. Jesse Solidon to provide enhanced medical care for the people of our city and province.

We had been active in the celebration of the town fiesta and added excitement to the festivities with a couple of photo contests eagerly participated in by local amateur and professional photographers.

Friends and relatives having fun at Casa Aguila in Henderson, Nevada

Friends and relatives having fun at Casa Aguila in Henderson, Nevada

Dr. Aguila’s philanthropic and compassionate nature was in full display when she initiated relief and rehabilitation efforts for the victims of the devastating Typhoon Yolanda, which cut  wide swath of destruction in Eastern Visayas.

In my effort to raise money for the kidney transplant, I had approached Dr. Aguila for help in reaching out to various medical organizations, particularly alumni of the University of the East, Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center.

I have been blessed enough to have circles of friends willing to help me meet the challenges of this medical condition. Personal, professional and other connections have allowed me to face the coming days and months with hope and optimism.

Whatever happens, it’s great to know that I shared happy moments with some great people – and my life is richer because of them.




Boronganons show heart in Atlantic City

Couple Noel and Irma Baquilod; Nalding and  Edith Raagas  in Atlantic City.

Couples Noel and Irma Baquilod; Nalding and Edith Raagas in Atlantic City.

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – In what is the largest contribution so far, Borongan folks in the East Coast and their friends have collected about $1,500 from an Atlantic City bus tour for the Bert Eljera Kidney Transplant Fund.

Organized by the husband-and-wife teams of Noel and Irma Baquilod, and Blas and Sucil Balano, the group spent Saturday to sample the food and play a little in the slots in  a show of compassion for a fellow Boronganon.

“I gathered 21 people and Padi Blas had 23 in a group that included non-Boronganons,” said Noel. “It was a great turn-out.”

With participants from Ay Borongan, the Borongan association now preparing for the town fiesta, and HANDS International, the U.S.-based charity that assist the most needy Filipinos with emergencies, the bus tour was the second fund-raiser initiated by BCS-SJC Class ’68, my high school classmates.

Winnie and Merle Escudero, Nilda and Boy Elio in Atlantic City.

Winnie and Merle Escudero, Nilda and Boy Elio in Atlantic City.

My classmates from Manila sent $200, and others in the U.S. sent personal contributions. Some have called in to make pledges, making this circle of friends, the highest giver so far.

BCS-SJC Class ’70, with Irma Baquilod and Christie Anacta, assisted in this fund-raising effort.

Part of the money raised came at a meeting of Ay Borongan two weeks ago at the Long Island residence of Mano Nalding and Mana Edith Raagas. A hat was passed around and several Boronganons decided to donate, but did not join the Atlantic City trip.

“Asya gad iton it magsarangkay, nagbuburubligay,” Irma Baquilod said.

The fund-raising is closing in on $10,000 total contribution, and nearer the $15,000 goal we need to raise for the four-year, post-transplant medications that the University of Southern Nevada Medical Center requires.

The plan is to have the money in by the end of September to have the transplant process in full swing by December.

I’m relying on  a couple of groups – the sportswriters and a Las Vegas charity – to provide the final push. The final third – $5,000 –  do not seem to be  a very daunting amount, and with your help, I’m pretty sure we will make it.

Ay Borongan members at a recent fiesta preparation meeting.

Ay Borongan members at a recent fiesta preparation meeting.