SENATOR Aquilino Pimentel III on Friday congratulated the Philippine team for winning 35 gold medals, as well 43 silver and 17 bronze, that brought its medal haul to 95 at the recent 15th Asean Age-Group Chess Championships in Sands Cotai Central, Macau.

The medal haul broke the Filipinos' record haul of 65 medals, of which 24 were gold, 28 silver and 13 bronze, at last year's age-group championships in Thailand.

"Filipinos stand as one of the chess powers in Asia," said Pimentel. "We have consistently produced talents that have done the nation proud in regional tournaments."

He singled out eight-year-old Precious Yecla, who became the youngest Woman FIDE Master, and Michelle Yaon who was also installed a new WFM in the multi-nation tournament. The two became the instant toast of the 47-member Philippine delegation.

"We are proud and grateful of you," said Pimentel in a press statement. "The medals are treasured independence day gifts to our people."

Paulo Bersamina earned his International Master title and Janelle Mae Frayna and Jan Jodilyn Fronda also gained their own IMs on the distaff side, highlighting the Filipinos’ respectable showing in the high-powered field of international campaigners that came from 50 nations in five continents.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was the guest at the 10-day tournament that drew more than 600 players and team officials and delegates.

Competitors were entered in several categories, namely Under-8, U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16, U-18 and U-20.

Pimentel said he expects the new crop of Filipino pawn pushers to continue performing at a high level in bigger tournaments here and abroad.

"Our players have shown a lot of promise," said Pimentel, an avid chess player himself. "I just hope our sports officials will develop their potential because there is nothing like starting them young."

Support for the chess players has been provided regularly by government agencies like the Philippine Sports Commission.

Vietnam has been the dominant force in the Asean Age-Groups in recent years, and was represented by 82 players in all the categories.

China sent 36 players, its largest ever delegation, while Singapore had 50 and Malaysia 39. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)