Appreciating Pinoy talents

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 10, 2021 - 12:00am

After being sworn in as an American citizen two weeks ago in St. Paul Minneapolis, Minnesota, Chess Grandmaster Wesley So said taking on US citizenship “doesn’t mean that I don’t love the Philippines. I have good memories from there, but I did not have the connections I needed in that culture.

“I was from the province, not a city boy. Had no money, etc. I wanted to go further, and there is only one country that a nobody could make it. The USA.”

So became the youngest grandmaster of the Philippines when he was 14 years old. It is well known he left the Philippines for the US after being exasperated with the politics of our local chess and national sports organizations.

So is the inaugural World Fischer Random Chess champion, whipping world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen 13.5 to 2.5 points in the finals held from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, 2019 in the Norwegian’s home turf.

He reasserted his supremacy over Carlsen not once, but twice in a span of a few months recently, beating the latter in the finals of Skilling Open, the first leg of the online Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, last November 2020, then again in the Europa Rapid meet finals in February this year.

So’s story highlighted the long running problem with Philippine sports federations which have been plagued by corruption and favoritism for decades. Our inability to win medals in the Olympics is largely the result of politics infesting sports development in the country.

Even Manny Pacquiao and countless other boxers have been victimized by our exploitative sports structure. Manny only got respect after winning big internationally.

In recent years, those who make good in international sports are those who come from well to do families and are able to support their expenses for training and attendance in international competitions.

It isn’t only sports. Our propensity to make it difficult for fellow Pinoys to succeed can be seen even in an exalted field like Medicine.

I came across the story of a talented Filipino doctor who went to the US for training, got his specialty credentials as a diplomate in neurosurgery. He opted to go home, anxious to practice, teach, and give back.

Sadly, he found out his colleagues in neurosurgery did not welcome him. He could not get in as a faculty in UST (where he was an alumnus), neither in UP, UE, FEU or MCU, even though he offered to teach with no salary.

None of the major hospitals in Metro Manila would take him as an active staff, but only allowed visiting privileges.

It is not unexpected. Local doctors don’t want him or any foreign trained and credentialed Filipino doctors back.

He patiently tried to work his way into the local system. Eventually, one hospital took him at the behest of a college buddy who knew the hospital CEO personally.

The neurosurgery chief of the hospital in the US where he trained, upon learning about his plight, wrote and offered to help him return to the US if he wanted to, saying, “You would think they should embrace you with your training. You are a man without a country.”

But he was not deterred.

“Did fairly well very slowly, enough to buy a used car and a home with the help of my wife who taught in UP. Curiously, I had to buy my own portable operating microscope, specialty neurosurgery instruments… none of the hospitals had them. All the neurosurgeons had their own equipment.”

This doctor didn’t take the snub personally. He said that perhaps we have just developed a tenacious instinct for survival, topped by unsinkable, maybe misplaced, pride.

“We can argue beyond self, that the locals’ brazen efforts to block outsiders are outright wrong! But realistically, we who return to practice in the Philippines, regardless of lofty aims and purposes, are serious competition in the profession and a threat to their income and livelihood. Would we, if we were in their shoes, act or do any different?”

So, this doctor thought that “rather than fight fire with fire, I opted to humble myself and took extra effort to keep a low profile, be one of the guys. The initial enmity, which was overt, has gradually softened.”

Actually, the local medical community has been inhospitable not just to returning medical practitioners who are seen as competition. They are also making it difficult for medical missions organized by US-based Filipino doctors. Visiting Fil-Am doctors who serve for free should not be seen as competition.

Since 1998 Fil-Am doctors have met with seven different secretaries of health to try and work things out to no avail. In 2016, leaders of medical mission groups formed the Fil-American Initiative to Transform the Homeland (FAITH) and once more they met with the DOH secretary and Philippine Medical Association leaders. A memorandum of agreement was drawn up by 2017, but has not been signed by DOH Secretary Francisco Duque.

We need a new attitude that looks at all Filipinos, including those in our diaspora, as allies in the task of building our nation. In Medicine, so much change and progress is happening and interaction between our foreign-based doctors and local practitioners should be helpful.

As this neurosurgeon puts it, “There is much to do in Medicine and for the country as a whole, and the hurdles are many, and steep. We cannot give up on our Philippines now. Shouldn’t we who are in positions to help be part of it?”

Our inability to appreciate Pinoy talent out of jealousy or simply because they don’t fit into our culture of corruption explains why there is so much misery in our country today. We could be roaring with the region’s tiger economies if we welcomed and used all the talents Filipinos have worldwide.

A change of attitude is called for. We must put out a wide welcome mat for Filipinos returning from the diaspora to help us improve life in the motherland. Our ability to compete and even survive depends on it.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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