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Campomanes: The grand old man of Philippine Chess

February 6, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Campomanes: The grand old man of Philippine Chess
Ronald Roy  -February 6, 2008

 First, about the CBCP statement, then about Campo.
           Of all the different kinds of respect, my self-respect is the most precious.  I am not about to lose it by joining the faithful’s response of outrage against the “disgusting”, “revolting” and “abominable” Statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) which has condemned the entire Filipino nation as so morally bankrupt and debauched as to have lost its right to demand the ouster of Gloria Macapal-Arrovo and her lackeys. To do so would be an absolute waste of time and energy. Period.

          Actually, the Reverend Fr. Joe Dizon, convenor of the Solidarity of the Philippines , a movement for the advancement of the social justice agenda of the Catholic Church, had already said it all last Saturday at the Kapihan sa Sulo Hotel, a weekly media forum. It was unfortunate, however, that the charismatic reverend, respected and loved for his genteel ways, refrained from employing the rhetoric of the riff-raff – which I think would have been appropriate if he had done so. After all, isn’t Jesus of Nazareth still the greatest militant-defender of the unshod, the illiterate and all those who hardly count in the just distribution of basic commodities: the Filipino riff-raff? The language of Fr. Dizon, assuredly, was too respectful for all those one hundred twenty Judas Iscariots in the CBCP. At least, the Iscariot of old eventually repented and returned the thirty pieces of silver, albeit in despair. But I don’t see anyone of our Judases doing the same. Fat chance!

          Yes, #3783, I agree that it’s JDV’s year, the year of The Rat(fink) and also of his son Mickey Mouse! These father-son ratfinks will soon be squealing on the evil deeds of the tyrant. But let’s wait and see how the events will unfold until her fall. I’m tired and need a rest!

*                                   *                                   *

 Fédération Internationale des Échecs          His lifetime achievements in the world of chess speak very well of this grand old man whom friends fondly call Campo.  At 81 and still pushing, this 14-year president of the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) has contributed so much to the sport which he helped turn into a universal discipline. Last year, at the breezy Mall of Asia, Campo received a timely and well-merited recognition as a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philippine Sportswriters Association. “I think it’s a final recognition of the countless services I’ve extended to the country,” said Mr. Campomanes, the FIDE president from 1982 to 1995, chairman until 1996, and honorary president to date.

          He added, “We catalyzed a hardly known sport here, and made the Philippines associated with anything involving chess in Asia and the world.  And this is just one of the things I’ve accomplished for chess over the past 54 years. I spread widely the word of chess over the three continents of Asia, Latin America and Africa .” The chess master has probably been around longer than anyone else.  However, most of his contemporaries in this enterprise are gone.  He was the Philippine Champion in 1956 and 1960, and was with the RP team to the Olympiads in 1956 ( Moscow ), 1960 ( Leipzig ), 1966 ( Havana ), 1974 (Nice), 1976 ( Haifa ), 1978 ( Buenos Aires ), and 1980 ( Malta ) as player or captain.  He joined the 1056 Olympiad with teammates Glicerio Badilles, Carlos Benitez and Rudy Cardoso and emerged Group C champion against teams like Iran , Puerto Rico and Greece .

          A cum laude at the University of the Philippines in 1948 and a Fullbright Grantee, he continued his studies in 1949 at Brown University in Rhode Island , and at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. until 1952.  He was a lecturer in Political Science at UP (1954-1956), and was the first chess columnist in major Philippine dailies, the Manila Times (1954-‘56) and Manila Chronicle (1956-’61).  He also produced and hosted the first daily chess TV program (Chess Today) in the country from 1973 to 1982.  From 1956 to 1982, Campo was the country’s permanent delegate to the FIDE, and in the process built his reputation around the international chess community.  He brought to the country the Asian Zonals, the FIDE Inter-Zonals, and the world championships for which the Philippines was noted as an excellent chess-event organizer.

          It didn’t take long for him to succeed in the FIDE organization.  In 1960-’64, he served as the FIDE Asian Zone president, and from 1974 was the FIDE deputy president for Asia .  Then he was elected FIDE president in 1982.  Finally, it was a Filipino and an Asian as never before, who took the helm in FIDE.  Campomanes was a brilliant worker who, during his term, raised the FIDE membership from the 100s to the 150s.  He raised $13 million (a fortune during those years) for six Men’s World Championships in only nine years, bringing his labor of love to Moscow, London, Leningrad, Seville, New York, Lyon, Amsterdam and Jakarta.  He turned FIDE into a truly universal body, reaching out to Asian, African and Latin American countries.  All through those times, Philippine chess also enjoyed its best years.

          With these accomplishments, Campomanes wants to be remembered as a fellow who hurdled many minuses in his quest for his country’s recognition in the chess world. “I turned the Philippines into chess country; so everybody who learned to play chess after 1954, I consider as my surrogate children.  For some time, I made our little country reign supreme in Asia .” Among the minuses he was probably referring to was a court case, which he endured for ten years, a case which stemmed from the country’s hosting of the 1992 Chess Olympiad and FIDE Congress.  I recall assisting Campo through his legal travails 15 years ago, but my recommendee, the brilliant law practitioner Ray Armovit,  unfortunately died prematurely, thereby protracting the litigation to Campo’s greatest discomfort.  He had been accused of failing to submit an accounting of funds used for the Olympiad and Congress.

          Ombudsman Aniano Desierto ignored the recommendation of his Deputy Ombudsman and the special prosecutor to dismiss the case.  The Sandiganbayan convicted Campo and sentenced him to serve 22 months of imprisonment and to pay a fine of P6,000.  On a motion for reconsideration, the court reduced the sentence to the monetary penalty because of his advanced age – prompting him to declare, “I don’t want charity! I ask for the Rule of Law!” He then elevated the case to the Supreme Court.  With the help of friends from the Sycip, Salazar, Hernandez and Gaitmaitan law firm, he finally earned an acquittal on Dec. 19 2006.

          The case is over, and Campomanes feels re-born.  “The case steeled my morale to keep on pushing. Now, they may watch my smoke!”  Now the FIDE honorary president, Campomanes remains in the FIDE Presidential Board and is as active as ever. Last year, he was in Moscow for the Tal Memorial as Appeals Jury Chairman and some lectures, and Doha for the Asian Games as FIDE technical delegate.  As he looks back over the years, he also foresees more tasks to accomplish.

          “I now realize our lack of advantage from the things we achieved in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Now we are aware that we are really far behind in big-time chess competition play.  But there is still time.  We still have the chance to improve on those past records. Under the present leadership of former Congressman Butch Pichay, the National Chess Federation of the Philippines president, we may achieve that.”  Campomanes should still be around, older but still pushing, when that time comes.

          As we parted after a  hearty lunch that took some three hours to devour, Campo, his hair and moustache grizzled, and eyes sparkling, quipped: “Ronnie, stop calling me the Father of Philippine Chess. I am its steadfast and principled gadfly.”

post scriptum gmdumlao  -Sep 2011: Florencio Campomanes, requiescat in pace,  May 3, 2010  

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