𝗕𝗬 𝗗𝗘𝗡𝗩𝗘𝗥 𝗚𝗢𝗗𝗘𝗭𝗔𝗡𝗢
It was raining heavily when it all started in 2019.
Bince Operiano, five years old back then, was playing inside their small home made of bamboo and nipa in Busac village, near a bridge in Oas town in Albay. He couldn’t go outside to play because the rain was substantial, and it could get him sick.
Thereafter, his father arrived with a chessboard he bought in downtown Polangui. Since that day, Bince and his little brother’s curiosity made them play chess together with their father. It started as a random pastime in a wooden-floor home next to a riverbank. Little did they know, the chess board bought on a rainy day would bring them to Bangkok for an international chess tournament four years later.
Bince, 9, from San Isidro Elementary School in Oas, topped the under-10 years old category in the recent 6th Eastern Asia Youth Chess Championship held in Bangkok, Thailand. The chess prodigy qualified for the international tournament after winning the National Youth and Schools Chess Championship in Zamboanga del Norte in September.
But beyond the golden facade lies the struggle of a kid who saw the ill of Philippine sports at a very young age.
“Sisipagan mo lang yung pagsolicit para di ka nawawalan ng pag asa. Saka lagi lang mapagkumbaba. Di ka nagrereklamo. Kapag kung ano naman tumutulong pa rin yung government pero depende. Depende pa rin sa pamumuhay niyo pero kung di naman kayo kilala ang hirap nun eh,” said Ben Operiano, 36, father of Bince.
Sponsorships and limited government support have helped them to fund their trip to Bangkok but he said it wasn’t an easy journey. Before that support, they were in debt because they also needed to fund Bince’s training.
Ben shared how compadre politics persists even in sports though he said he doesn’t want to talk more about it to avoid conflicts and prefers to stay silent.
“Kung minsan kasi ayaw ko nang magsalita sa ganyan kasi kapag nagsalita ka ng ano marami kang makakalaban kaya tahimik na lang,” said Ben.
According to his father, Bince played countless tournaments locally before he even reached the international tournament. Aside from the Bangkok win, the most memorable match for them was the very first time they joined a tournament in Albay Astrodome at the age of six and won the national age group category eight. Then, the pandemic struck.
The family struggled with joining online competitions, which have become the avenue to continue chess during the lockdown. But without mobile devices and an internet connection, Bince could not consistently participate.
“Kaya ang experience namin noon sa online, wala kaming laptop, wala rin kaming cellphone. Cellphone, ngayon lang din kami nakabili ng cellphone. Kaya napakahirap. Manghihiram ka. Magrerent ka. Naglalaro kami sa computer shop,” said Ben.
He also said that they had to pay yearly membership fee to the National Chess Federation of the Philippines to be qualified and recognized in joining national tournaments and even international games.
“Sila ang nagfafacilitate at nagpapalaro ng laro para makasali kami at papuntahin mga taga ibang bansa kasi dadaan kami ng pre-elimination, elimination, semi-finals. Madami ka talagang pagdadaanan bago ka makapaglaro ng ibang bansa,” he said.
Ben said that the news circulating that they slept on airport benches was not true.
“Saka ‘yung kumakalat na natulog po ng three days sa airport wala naman pong katotohanan yun eh. Bale nag two nights siya airport naka flight na siya pa Bangkok, Thailand. Kaya daming fake news na lumabas,” he said.
The Bicol Universitarian asked what changed after their international championship. Bince’s father said it was a momentary support after the news got trending in social media, but shortly all the glitters faded and they are back to self-financing Bince’s training at home.
“Sa ngayon wala naman akong nararamdaman na pagbabago kasi sa social media kakalat lang sila, sila yung sisikat. Dapat nga kung tutuusin dapat may tumulong na sa amin sa training. [Pero hanggang ngayon,] wala kaming pang-payment sa malalaking training. Wala pa kaming pambayad sa ganon kaya yun yung pinaka-kailangan namin yung sponsor,” Ben said.
Financial situation remains to be a major problem for local sports talents to grow, the family believed.
“Para lang sakuya is, minsan dipisil man lalo na baga sa estado kan buhay. Maray kung sa mga mayayaman. Kung minsan nagtutubod ako sa kasabihan na ang chess ay para lang sa mayayaman ta kapag nagtitios, dipisil,” Ben said while trying to hold back his tears.
Yet, he has a piece of advice for parents who see talents in their children.
“Dapat huwag silang mawalan ng pag asa. Suportahan nila hanggat sa makakaya nila. Tulad ko nga, dapat kasi sa mga magulang discipine ang pinaka number one. Bago nila disiplinahin ang kanilang mga anak, yung sarili muna nila,” he said.
Bince is a silent boy. He just smiled and bowed down whenever we asked questions. You can see the humility in his innocent eyes. Little did he know, he made our countrymen proud of his championship. Little did we know how he struggled to get there.
Written by | Denver Godezano is a BA Broadcasting student at the BU College of Arts and Letters. He has been the editor-in-chief of The Bicol Universitarian since 2021.
Photo by | Limuel Epino is a BA Broadcasting student at the BU College of Arts and Letters. He joined the Universitarian as a videjournalist in 2022.