Blatche, So and the Filipino

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

THERE'S an interesting development in Philippine sports. But first, I want you to consider these two names: Andray Blatche and Wesley So. Blatche is a player of the Brooklyn Nets in the National Basketball Association in the United States. So is a super grandmaster, currently ranked 15th in the world. Now the question: Who of them is Filipino?

Okay, some background info. Blatche is as American as McDonalds, born in Syracuse, New York to American parents. He set foot in the Philippines for only a few days in his life. So, on the other hand, is as Filipino as Jollibee, born in Bacoor, Cavite to Filipino parents. But his parents have migrated to Canada and he is studying in the US.

But back to the question: Who of them is Filipino?


Last Wednesday, President Noynoy Aquino signed Republic Act 10636 granting Filipino citizenship to Blatche. That means he can now play for the Philippine national basketball team, Gilas Pilipinas, like the other American naturalized for the national team, Marcus Douthit. Blatche will strengthen Gilas Pilipinas’s campaign in the Fiba World Cup this August.

So is working towards transferring his membership from the National Chess Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) to the United States Chess Federation (USCF). That means he has to relinquish his Filipino citizenship and become an American.

So said he is doing this to further his quest to be among the top 10 players of the world and even become number one. He is currently being handled by Susan Polgar, the former child chess prodigy from Hungary who is now an American and became a member of the US women’s chess team. So has a model, therefore, in his bid to become a US citizen.

For those who are not interested in chess and do not know So, he became grandmaster at the age of 14. He is listed as the eighth youngest in history and the youngest Filipino to become a grandmaster. Only 20 years old, So has won many international chess tournaments and was a member of the Philippine chess team in the Olympiad.

Now, who of them is Filipino?


Advances in transportation and telecommunications have given rise to what we now call a global village. While national borders have remained, exchange and interdependence among countries and peoples have weakened these barriers. These also affected the sense of nationalism of citizens in most countries, including the Philippines.

When the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) laid down a program for the country to regain its supremacy in basketball in Asia, it recognized one physical limitation of Filipino players: lack of ceiling. So it looked for American-bred Filipinos with height but found only a few. It therefore resorted to making Filipinos out of foreigners.

Douthit became a naturalized Filipino following the lead of Americans Dennis Still, Jeff Moore and Chip Engelland of decades past. There wasn’t much furor about it until Blatche’s name was presented. Here’s one American, a legit NBA player, true, but one who probably couldn’t distinguish lechon manok from fried chicken—and he is Filipino?

But the pragmatists, or okay the globalists, won the debate, and we finally have a Filipino who is playing in the NBA, although he is not pislat ug mubo. Now we flip the coin and focus on So, who can be mistaken for a Chinese nerd if one is not familiar with how the Pinoy looks. But there are many Americans like him in the US these days.

The NCFP was probably shocked by So’s move, but what can it do? Former congressman Prospero Pichay, head of the NCFP, should do well to grant So his request to transfer to the USCF. We are, after all, in a globalized setup with weakened old values, including patriotism. If Blatche can become Filipino, why can’t So be an American?


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 13, 2014.


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