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PHL's Wesley So is new US chess champion

Published in Entertainment


ST. LOUIS — Filipino grandmaster Wesley So, who is playing for the United States, has won his first US national championship in chess.


With his top rivals falling by the wayside, So held off an unexpected challenger to claim the championship crown at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.


The 23-year-old Filipino defeated surprise finalist GM Alex Onischuk 11/2-1/2 in a rapid playoff, barely holding off Onischuk's attempt to tie the match in the decisive second game. The playoff was needed after the two topped the 12-player field with identical 7-4 scores.


With the win, So became the first Filipino woodpusher to conquer the United States Chess Championship’s men’s division.


So closed in on the title after he drew with five-time champion Gata Kamsky   in 53 moves last Saturday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis in St. Louis, Missouri, Peter Atencio reported in Manila Standard.


The 23-year-old So used the Slav variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined in posting his seventh draw in 10 games.


But two others, Varuzhan Akobian and Alexander Onischuk, are also in contention for the crown. The two have 6.5 points after Akobian drew with Ray Robson in 50 moves of a Queen’s Gambit Declined and Onischuk stopped Jeffrey Xiong in 52 moves of a Gruenfeld Opening.


Two former champions, Fabiano Caruana (2016) and Hikaru Nakamura are behind with 5.5 points.


The 2822 ELO-rated So, who posted his first win over Kamsky last year in round 1, took note of his foe’s decision to make an e6 pawn push in the 6th move. The black-playing Kamsky’s move immobilized his light-squared bishop at c8. 


From there, So gained control of his queenside and equalized by pushing his queen and rook to the left side of the board, giving him a chance to simplify the game in his favor.


When Kamsky offered a draw, So was wielding a two-pawn advantage at endgame.

Liza Soberano, Enrique Gil in SanFo show again

Published in Entertainment

(Photo from Instagram | @lizasoberano)


Popular reel and real sweethearts Enrique Gil and Filipino American Liza Soberano were set to invade San Francisco again.


According to their posts on social media, they were to perform at the Great America Theater in San Francisco after their show in Vancouver, Canada.


Liza and Enrique posted photos on Instagram about their date in the Canada city after performing at a show in Vancouver with other Star Magic artists.


The photos showed that they had a night out but since it was raining they sought cover in a   restaurant.


They baptized Vancouver as “raincouver” due to the rain that almost spoiled their promenade.


In their posts, the popular love team was seen enjoying a dinner date while taking cover from the rain.


Gil called his onscreen partner his "beautiful date" in his Instagram photo, which he shared as reported by their mother studio ABS-CBN.


Liza Soberano, on the other hand, said that they decided to stay inside a cozy-looking restaurant to take a break from the rain, calling Vancouver "raincouver."


For their outfits, the pair decided for a more casual look. Liza opted for a simple polo for her top, while Enrique picked a grey hoodie that he matched with a Toronto Raptors ball cap.


Their posts came a day after  they appeared at the Canadian leg of the Star Magic 25 Grand Celebration, a worldwide tour commemorating the 25th anniversary of Star Magic.


During the show, Liza performed Zara Larsson's "Ain't My Fault," while Enrique drew shrieks with his dance medley, ABS-CBN reported.


The show's lineup included other Kapamilya stars such as Eric Nicolas, Sam Milby, Jodi Sta. Maria and Arci Muñoz, who all went skiing after.


Published in Headline

Intensity 6 tremor shakes Davao, Lanao, Cotabato, Bukidnon; damages reported




MABINI, Batangas (via PhilAmPress) – A swarm of earthquakes rocked the province of Batangas and nearby provinces of Luzon on Saturday, April 8, with the strongest tremor registering at magnitude 6.0 of the Richtel scale, destroying several buildings like schools, churches and hospitals triggering the closure of a mall and displacing thousands of residents.


The quakes also forced the outage of 10 power plants prompting the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines to place its Luzon grid on yellow alert. Some areas like the town of Mabini where the epicenter of a strong quake earlier was traced lost power as a result of the quakes but were promptly taken care of by power linemen. Some roads were also closed due to landslides.


The NGCP said in an advisory that the Luzon grid’s reserves went down to 589 megawatts (MW), which is lower than the required reserve of 647 MW, thus triggering the yellow alert.


The twin earthquakes -- measuring magnitude 5.6 and 6.0 -- which struck Batangas and Calabarzon areas at 3:07 p.m. and 3:09 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, brought damages to schools, hospitals, hotels, churches and other infrastructures, according to the rapid disaster assessments monitoring and reports.


The tremors came only four days after a quake of 5.5 magnitude struck  Batangas province and was felt as far as Metro Manila and nearby provinces.


Following the Batangas tremors, in which over 1,000 aftershocks have been recorded, Samar, Ilocos and Surigao were also struck by quakes.


On Wednesday, April 12, a magnitude 5.5 earthquake of tectonic origin rocked Bukidnon province, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Misamis  and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) is expecting aftershocks. Another report stated that the magnitude was 6 an.d also hit Lanao del Sur.


Initial Phivolcs data show the earthquake struck 6.0 kms north 66° east of Bukidnon's Kalilangan municipality at a depth of 3.0 kms.


The magnitude 6 temblor struck at 5:21 a.m. at six kilometers southwest of the town of Wao, Lanao del Sur, according to a Phivolcs bulletin. Magnitude 5.8 was measured in Osias, Bukidnon, by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).


The USGS listed the areas near the epicenter of the event as Osias, Wao, Cotabato and the towns of Kalilangan and Don Carlos in Bukidnon.


Phivolcs said the moderate-sized earthquake was reported at intensity IV in Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City and Cotabato City and Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental as well as instrumental intensity III in Cagayan de Oro City.


The big quake damaged buildings, roads, houses, schools and mosques in Lanao del Sur.


Based on the initial assessment of Francis Garcia, Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Officer in Wao, an estimated 30 homes from Barangay Extension, Siran, Panang and Balatin sustained partial damage from the quake. Four homes were also totally damaged in Barangay Panang.


The series of earthquakes and aftershocks intensified speculations and fears that the anticipated strong quake in Metro Manila due to the rupture of the West Valley Fault that stretches from Bulacan cutting through the thickly populated Metro Manila and up to Laguna and Cavite in the sourth could be forthcoming.


Experts from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs),  however immediately allayed the fears of the people on the supposed “Big One,” pointing out that the newly found Mabini Faultline which caused the Batangas earthquakes was not connected to the West Valley Fault and the temblors in Samar and Mindanao and other areas in Luzon.


The Phivolcs had been warning that the West Valley Fault is “ripe” for movement that could trigger a destructive magnitude 7.2 temblor.


According to the 2004 Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS), a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila could kill 34,000 people and injure 114,000 individuals due to collapsed buildings.


The same study showed that the 7.2 quake could damage 40 percent of residential buildings, 35 percent of all public buildings, and the ensuing fires will result in 18,000 additional fatalities.


Government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, immediately extended assistance while the town of Mabini, Batangas City and other areas have been declared in a statement of calamity to speed up support and assistance to those affected.


Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas called for help from the national government agencies.


Dr. Renato Solidum, Phivolcs Executive Director and now an undersecretary of the Department of Science and Technology, himself allayed fears of Metro Manilans over widespread texts and social media posts that the Batangas quakes could trigger a very strong earthquake known as the “Big One”.


In a press briefing  at the Batangas Provincial Capitol auditorium in Batangas City, Dr. Solidum explained that the series of tremors that hit the country like the strong quakes in Batangas, Ilocos, Northern Samar and Surigao are not connected or have nothing to do with any big quake to hit Metro Manila.


Solidum also dispelled what he said as wrong information circulated around on the “Big One” scenario and advised the public to get correct and verified information from the Phivolcs itself as he called for calm and vigilance.


Solidum said that the quakes that hit Batangas and parts of the Calabarzon Region, Metro Manila and Camarines Norte were traced to a local fault line in Mabini that triggered the quakes.


Fault lines are generators of ground movements or earthquakes, according to the Phivolcs chief.


At the same briefing, Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas said that rapid disaster assessments have been conducted by the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in cooperation with the Calabarzon Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and RDRRMC.


Mandanas said the government will assess the effects of the underground movement at sea particularly on Batangas rich biodiversity at the Verde Island Passage which is acknowledged by international biodiversity experts.


Mandanas added that the province will be conducting its disaster assessment especially on the 500 kilometer Malampaya pipeline which spans the Palawan-Mindoro to Batangas underground and seawaters.


Dr. Solidum said an earthquake swarm has been going on since Tuesday last week, and seismologists have recorded over 1,000 aftershocks, including the four “moderately sized” tremors on Saturday, April 8.


He said there was nothing to be alarmed about, as this was expected of a gradually moving fault line, adding that an earthquake swarm typically lasts for days or weeks.


On Monday, a magnitude-3.9 aftershock struck five kilometers southwest of Mabini, Batangas which was also felt at Intensity 4 in Tingloy, Batangas; Intensity 3 in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro; and Intensity 2 in San Teodoro, Oriental Mindoro.


The Phivolcs chief appealed to the public to refrain from spreading text messages and using social media to warn about an Intensity 8 earthquake that will supposedly hit Luzon following last Saturday’s tremors in Batangas and nearby areas.


 “In case of another felt earthquake, do the duck/drop, cover and hold and move to a safe area after the shaking,” the agency said in a statement.


Phivolcs stressed there is no reliable technology in the world that can confidently predict the date, time and location of large earthquakes.


“We appeal to the public not to send or forward any information that may further cause confusion and fear among people,” it said.


Office of Civil Defense Calabarzon Regional Director Olivia M. Luces reported that the damaged school buildings include the Batangas State University campus where the wall, ceiling and stairs of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Fine Arts building collapsed and the Sta. Teresita College in Bauan, Batangas and the Barangay Bayorbor Senior High School Building in Mataas Na Kahoy which reported minor damages.


Luces said the Batangas Medical Center, Taal Polymedic Hospital and the Lipa City Hospital suffered cracks on their walls, while the Mabini General Hospital in Barangay Pulong Niogan also incurred major damages and the Jesus of Nazareth Hospital in Batangas City was also reported to have cracks on its wall and its third floor ceiling collapsed.


The quakes also inflicted minor damages to San Juan District Hospital in Batangas and the Bay District Hospital in Laguna displacing patients and moved them to tents and temporary shelters.


Minor damages in the Bauan Church, the Sta. Teresita College in Bauan, the Lipa City Hospital in Lipa City, and the Robinson's Mall in Lipa City were also reported.


Besides the 20 partially damaged houses reported earlier in Bauan, Batangas, the town disaster response unit also reported two totally-wrecked residential units in Barangays San Andres and Pitugo 1.


In Batangas City, a house located in Barangay dela Paz was totally damaged while the quake also partially damaged a house in Zone 6 in Taal, Batangas.


As the Holy Week started on “Palm Sunday” (April 9), authorities have closely coordinated with parishes on the structural assessments of churches that were damaged by the April 4 quake and the subsequent twin quakes on April 8.


These include the Tingloy Church, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Batangas City where the wall of its pastoral building collapsed, Bauan Church and the Taal Basilica where fallen slabs and debris were earlier reported.


The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council has cautioned the public to stay safe and prepared and be vigilant in the wake of aftershocks that may trigger landslides and damage to infrastructures.


Authorities have also reported that besides the Hotel Camp Netanya building that partially collapsed in Barangay Ligaya, Mabini, the Hotel Sapra in Barangay Sta. Clara in Batangas City was also partially damaged.


As of Sunday, government structures like the Anilao Market in Mabini, the Poblacion in Bauan and Mataas na Kahoy municipal hall incurred minor damages.


Landslides also impaired travel on roads in Batangas City from Barangays Dela Paz to Ilijan and Barangay Pagkilatan as of Sunday as heaps of fallen debris stalled traffic in San Roque Road in Bauan.


Mt. Maculot in Cuenca, Batangas also experienced landslide while a ground rupture was reported in Sitio Balanoy in Mabini, Batangas.


Local disaster officials said that traumatized residents of Mabini, Batangas and tourists staying in its beach resorts spent the night on the streets fearing their houses would collapse following two major aftershocks on Saturday.


Two of the four quakes on Saturday registered magnitudes of 6 and 5.6, which struck two minutes apart. The two quakes were felt at Intensity 7 in Mabini.


Tremors were also felt in other parts of Luzon, including Metro Manila.


Reports reaching the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC)  said the earthquakes also damaged electrical lines.


“Based on the Rapid Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis (RDANA) conducted by the Regional DRRM Council Calabarzon, some roads in Batangas City, Agoncillo and Bauan, Batangas are not passable due to minor landslides,” the NDRRMC reported.


“There were schools, markets and houses reported to have partial damage. Intermittent power supply is being experienced in Tingloy, Mabini, San Luis and Batangas City,” the report added. 


The NDRRMC said one resident from Mabini, Batangas was injured after being hit by glass shards.


Reports said evacuation of families and individuals was reported in Mabini, Bauan, Taal, Tingloy, San Pascual, Lipa City, Agoncillo and San Luis, all in Batangas. 


The NDRRMC said its members from various government agencies have convened to discuss the effects and initial assessment of the magnitude-6.0 earthquake.


The NDRRMC gave assurance it is constantly monitoring the effects and response operations on the earthquake-stricken communities. 


Local disaster officials advised mountaineers and scuba divers of the adverse effects of the earthquake that struck the province.


Provincial disaster management council chief Lito Castro said the local government of Cuenca had released an advisory to all mountaineers to refrain from climbing Mt. Maculot this Lenten season.


Castro noted Mabini Mayor Bitrics Luistro had advised scuba divers planning to spend the Holy Week in the dive capital of the province.


A veteran dive master has advised against diving in the waters off Mabini, saying the seafloor is still murky following last Saturday’s tremor.


The Batangas disaster officials said several roads in Agoncillo, Bauan and Batangas City were temporarily closed because of landslides but they were cleared yesterday.


 Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said the department is prepared to provide more support to affected areas in the province.


“The DSWD remains on standby for any contingencies and emergencies connected to the earthquake and its impact. We ask Filipinos to prepare their families and communities for possible aftershocks and to remain vigilant,” Taguiwalo said.


Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, whose congressional district was severely hit by the weekend tremors, said many of his constituents are in dire need of food and other relief.


Sen. Loren Legarda said this is the best time for everyone to prepare for the Big One.


Following the series of earthquakes that struck Batangas within a month, Legarda said this highlights the need for heightened preparedness in the event of another quake.


“We never know when an earthquake will occur. But we should know what to do before, during and after the occurrence of such events. Regular safety drills should be done to familiarize citizens with safety and disaster preparedness measures,” Legarda said.


“The key to effective disaster prevention is planning. It is important to know if our location is near an active fault and prone to liquefaction or landslide, which may cause damage to houses or buildings. We have to ensure that buildings are not standing on active faults. Evaluation and retrofitting of public and private infrastructure is crucial in ensuring that buildings, bridges and other similar structures can withstand strong quakes,” she added.


Legarda said all sectors should be involved in preparing for the Big One or the projected 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila.


She said disaster management agencies, local government units, community leaders and regular citizens should all take part in preparing for a major earthquake.


Duterte’s bold move in the Spratlys

Published in Perry Scope
Since Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency of the Philippines, he had demonstrated a clear bias for China and – by his own words – hatred of the United States.   It did not then come as a surprise that he did not pursue the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling that China has no “historical rights” based on the “nine-dash line” map.  China rejected the ruling.  Duterte set aside the PCA’s award, saying that he has no plans to raise the arbitral ruling right now.
Satisfied with President Duterte’s decision to not pursue the arbitral ruling, China showered the country with infrastructure, economic, and military aid in billions of dollars.  Duterte was so happy that he declared that China loves the Philippines and the Filipino people. China’s “charm offensive,” which includes signing a six- year development plan, paid off and Duterte was happy as a clam.  “China is our friend,” he declared.
But in spite of China’s expression of “love,” there are two disturbing things that are happening in the country.  The first is that China continues to provide weapons to the communist New People’s Army (NPA), which is becoming stronger – and bolder -- in fighting the government.  The second is that China remains the biggest – if not the only – source of illegal drugs that are flooding the country.  The Philippine National Police (PNP) admitted that it’s helpless in stopping the flow of the illegal drug “shabu” into the country.   
Stern warning
Last March, a series of events occurred that has taken the attention of the world.  First, it was reported in the news that Xiao Jie, mayor of China’s Sansha City, was quoted as saying that preparations were underway to build an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.  Duterte reacted by saying that the Philippines cannot stop China from building on the shoal for now.  “We can’t stop China from doing this thing,” he said.   
But Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disagreed.  He sternly warned that such structures might bolster China’s claims in the disputed waters.  He said that the installation of "radar stations" in the shoal will complete Chinese coverage of the West Philippine Sea and be used to enforce its "nine-dash line."  He reminded Duterte that the “President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, which is tasked by the Constitution to defend the country's territory.”   
Carpio recommended that Duterte can fulfill his constitutional duty by doing any or all of five things, one of which is: “Ask the United States to declare that Scarborough Shoal is part of Philippine territory for purposes of the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty since the shoal has been part of Philippine territory even during the American colonial period.”  With what is happening in North Korea right now, the U.S. might see this as an opportunity to bolster her alliances with five treaty allies (South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Australia) that form the First Island Chain.
A few days later, Duterte said that China gave her word not to undertake construction on Scarborough Shoal.  He was quoted in the news as saying, “I got word from the Chinese government, that in deference to our friendship, they want to preserve the relations, do not turn it sour, they are not building in Panatag. I told them thank you… they said nothing [will be built] on Panatag, [they] will never do it there."But “never” is something that China often says but rarely does.  We’ve heard her say that too often in her “salami-slicing” tactics in the Spratly archipelago since she took possession of the Mischief (Panganiban) Reef in 1995.  She built a small structure on stilts over it and told the Philippines that it was merely a “fishermen’s shelter.”  Today, a large fortification is built on it.  
Secret undersea exploration
But it didn’t take too long before China made her next step forward.  In my column, “Appeasing the Chinese Dragon” (April 7, 2017), I wrote: “In February 2016, the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) reported that several Chinese ships were seen in the Benham Rise. The following July, China Daily published a report about China’s “secret undersea exploration” in the Benham Rise area. The report said that China discovered massive mineral deposits. 
“During a press conference last March 10, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that the Philippines can explore and develop the natural resources in Benham Rise as a sovereign right but she cannot take the region as her own territory.
“The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) sought clarification on what Geng said.  In response, the Chinese informed DFA that they recognize the Philippines’ sovereign rights and they are not disputing Benham Rise.” 
Obviously, it’s another instance of China’s “two steps forward, one step backward” strategy she’s been using to expand her control over the islands in the South China Sea (SCS).  China’s next move would most likely be to propose a joint Philippines-China exploration of Benham Rise.  This reminds us of the tactics she used when the Philippines, China, and Vietnam held the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU) in the Spratlys in 2005-2008.  It gave China an “open window” to claim the Recto Bank.  Indeed, as soon as then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her Chinese and Vietnamese counterparts signed the JSMU, China started claiming Recto Bank. 
Flash of enlightenment
Last April 6, Duterte must have seen a flash of enlightenment.  Suddenly, he turned 180 degrees from his position that the Philippines is safe from Chinese imperialist expansion for as long as he kowtows to China’s powers-that-be and wouldn’t challenge China’s encroachment of Philippine territory.  He ordered the Armed Forces to “occupy” the nine islands in the Kalayaan Group of Islands in the Spratlys and personally plant a Philippine flag there to indicate the country’s sovereignty over these islands. He also said he wants to "officially claim" Benham Rise and change its name to "Philippine Ridge.”   
It is expected that Duterte’s drastic policy shift would set off a series of tectonic geopolitical ramblings, particularly from China.  It would also send a strong signal to Uncle Sam that Duterte is now willing to play ball with U.S. President Donald Trump and his generals, who seem to be ready to retake America’s role as the world’s preeminent superpower.  Indeed, it would serve America’s national interests in the Pacific and also strengthen the weakest link – the Philippines -- in the First Island Chain; thus, preventing China from breaking out into the Philippine Sea where Benham Rise is located.
What the future bodes
But the question is: How would China react to Duterte’s “independent” foreign policy that is now evolving into a foreign policy independent of Chinese influence?  Further, if China attacks the troops deployed to the nine Kalayaan islands, how would Duterte defend them? Would the U.S. defend them?  If so, would it start a war between the U.S. and China?  And as a consequence, would it ignite World War III? 
There are no answers to these questions yet.  However, it elicited a number of conspiracy theories.  One of them says that China ordered Duterte to occupy the islands to give the Chinese a pretense to attack the country.  Another theory says that Duterte wants to form a China-backed revolutionary government and eventually convert the country into a Cuban-style communist society.  Another one says that the Philippines would be balkanized into several countries or territories with Luzon and Palawan becoming provinces of China, Mindanao becoming a Muslim republic aligned with Malaysia, and the creation of a Republic of the Visayas under the protectorate of the U.S.  It might sound outlandish but when the country cannot get her act together, breaking it up might just be the convenient solution to a complex – and apparently unsolvable problem -- just like what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s. 

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