Philippines Rising: 3 World Championships in 1 month!


“For everything there is a season”, and it seems to be a winning season for the Philippines — three world championships within a month! And more exceptionally, they are in areas of excellence the Philippines has not achieved in the world arena before.

“Kuya Caloy” Yulo winner of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championship, got his start from, perhaps, a doting grandfather who saw him playing at tumbling and brought him to the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines. In an unusual story in Philippine sports, and much to her credit, head of gymnastics Cynthia Carreon perceived Carlos’s exceptional talent and discipline, and worked to obtain special support for him, who started training five hours a day, 6 days a week, staying in Japan under Coach Kugimiya for three years before winning this championship. President Rodrigo Duterte, Manny Pangilinan, Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso have given cash rewards and recognition to the young star who, at 19 and still below his peak, is already seeded No. 1 in gymnastics in the coming Olympics.

Wesley So was not so lucky… taught chess by his father, playing in localities, he became our national chess champion at 14, and ninth youngest grandmaster in history. Going through personal and family issues, he had to live through very lean times, and had to consider giving up chess. Eventually he was adopted by Filipina actress in the US, Lotis Key and her partner Kabigting, who supported Wesley in his career. Winning competition after competition, he won the US Championship in 2017, skyrocketed to No. 2 in the world, and began gunning for No. 1. Just this past October, he faced the world chess champ Magnus Carlsen “mano y mano,” in the Fischer Random World Chess Championship.

Random Chess, a variant that allows for the shuffling of the pieces in the onset, was promoted by Bobby Fischer whose goal was to eliminate what he considered the complete dominance of openings preparation (it is standard for the top players to have memorized the first 15 to 20 moves) in classical chess, replacing it with creativity and talent.

Raw talent. Wesley crushed Carlsen by four wins, 2 draws, no losses, for a total 13.5 to 2.5 score. Stunning was not only the turnaround of positions, it was a breathtaking display of talent, creativity, resilience — a true story of winning above tremendous starting odds.

It is sad that he had to play for another country, his talent was not sufficiently recognized and supported here. There are many others unrecognized in different fields of sports, sciences, arts, academe, etc.. It is an established and accepted practice to have a “sports nationality,” which athletes can choose, without giving up your original nationality, and this is accepted by the US and the International Olympic Committee and most countries. While we are proud of their wins, it also brings a sigh, and to some perhaps some tears that we have to let top athletes, scholars, and so many of our countrymen go elsewhere to have a better or even a decent life, or treatment.

Wesley has indicated the care he still has for the Philippines and the chess players here, although we rightfully should hear of the areas where improvements are needed in both amount and organization of support. We have to work to better the circumstances in our own country.

The problems are beyond money alone, as sports associations positions are often seen as rewards to give out, or posts to put friends or people owed to, out of major harm’s way politically, with some budget and power to play with. Appointees are often not knowledgeable about the sports or crafts, and cannot identify who are the true talents, and who are just early or late bloomers. Even when recognized, sports is replete with stories of athletes selected by the officials because of personal preferences, and politics rather than ability. Budgets often go to perks rather than training or competition. Private enterprises are now getting more active in support of sports, scholarships, etc… and partnerships are sorely needed. Both organizations and athletes may need to know better how to raise support and glamorize a sport to the public, but still retain the essence of excellence in sports.

Another world champion for the Philippines this month: Dr Calixto Chikiamco and Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) won the Atlas Network Templeton Award, one of the world’s top prizes in — in a field you would not normally think the Philippines to be a power in — think tanks’ advocacies. FEF is made up of the top economists in the country, the past, present, and perhaps future ones, and some friends. Romeo Bernardo, Virata, Climaco, Medalla, Karl Chua, Calixto, Olivar, etc… thinkers of different stripes, from different administrations, but all nationalists studying, pushing, hoping for the country.

This year’s winning project was for the successful liberalization, with the help of government, of restrictions on land patents, which will allow millions of farmers, owners around the country, to monetize, capitalize, utilize in different ways their lands, releasing billions of dollars worth of value for redeployment, increased investment, output, opportunities.

“What the Foundation for Economic Freedom has achieved in truly epic,” according to Dr. Tom G. Palmer, executive vice president of Atlas Network.

The new question is: Enablers are valuable, but the people still have to use newfound powers wisely… will they? People will need help. Our country needs so many moves planned and executed at the same time, continually, to catch up for our decades lost.

All three champions this month, and the people, organizations who supported them deserve our congratulations. We need to get down to how we can produce more champions in all fields. They are sources of inspiration for excellence for our people. We need more enhanced selection, support, and training happening, rather than the stories of the discouraging difficulties most have to go through to get even get decent support or treatment, or even just attention.

Is this season of triple triumphs just a moment in time, or are there better times to come? We wont say the “best is yet to come…” because that implies a decline after that peak. Senator Sonny Angara recently filed the bill for Philippine High School for Sports, which is now on the Senate floor. We not only look forward to, we should all work for “ever better years to come!” Better times are not a matter of luck or “weather” as the Filipino saying goes, “pana-panahon.” Let us plan, organize, work together and execute, not just critique!

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with Asean, Japan and the United States.

New Worlds by IDSI aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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