New COPAO Resolves To Move Forward Despite Scandal

SAN DIEGO – Senior officials, admitting for the first time that “mistakes were made and irregularities discovered” in their organization, said they were prepared to accept new evidence that could lead to a further investigation of the worst scandal to hit the Filipino community in decades.

The statement reversed the previous administration’s decision to close the case.

It also renewed hopes that the culprits in the disappearance of $27,000 from the government-funded Council of Philippine American Organizations (COPAO) and the accompanying check “forgeries” would at least be identified, if not prosecuted.

But as a practical matter, “finding that money is not gonna happen,” says Cesar Solis, one of the few new entrants recently inducted into COPAO as a director of its 19-member board.

Solis and other officials, namely Fred Gallardo, executive vice president; Benjie Podschun, vice president for operations; Ditas Yamane, executive director; and Alice Podschun, treasurer, met with this reporter on Tuesday (March 24) in a no-holds-barred discussion of outstanding issues in the organization.

All these officers expressed the prevailing general sentiment in COPAO, which is to move forward amidst the improprieties that happened when Mrs. Aurora S. Cudal was president in 2004, and surfaced only after she had been replaced by Rita B. Andrews in 2005.

Andrews bowed out of COPAO last year after serving for four years. Though she had claimed she inherited the scandal “from the previous administration” (meaning from her friend Mrs. Cudal’s), Andrews never really lifted the veil to let the public know who did it.

Instead, she had her executive council passed a resolution censuring, for not performing their fiduciary duties, Pastor Romen Rivera, then vice president for finance; and Norma DeGuzman, treasurer. The resolution left out Mrs. Cudal and Charito Balanag, auditor.

The four — Cudal, Rivera, DeGuzman and Balanag — were the COPAO officers whose job had to do with the organization’s finances. With this background, the resolution had the effect of excoriating Rivera and DeGuzman while exonerating Cudal and Balanag.

But Gallardo emphasized the censure was for evading their fiduciary responsibility, which, according to him, was the deliberate refusal of Rivera and DeGuzman to turn over the records. A month later, a judge ordered them to do so.

Though Cudal had denied any wrongdoing, she had made the admission that she was investigated by the police and asked to provide specimens of her signature, apparently to compare with the signatures appearing on 43 of the 50 checks claimed to have been forged.

Cudal’s repeated claim that the signature on the checks was not hers implied somebody in COPAO who had access to the checkbooks had forged it.

The missing monies and the check forgeries, among other unresolved issues, had cost COPAO so much in terms of public funding and community support. Grants from the County Board of Supervisors had been reduced to a trickle.

“The (money) issue has bogged down COPAO for many years,” admits Gallardo, who served in COPAO during the terms of Cudal and Andrews and now with the new administration of Merly Ferrer.

The entry of Solis, an assistant chief of the San Diego Police Department, in COPAO is seen in many quarters here as the most visible attempt of the new COPAO leadership to regain its reputation.

“There’s really no solid explanation for the missing money,” Solis states, assuring that the organization has taken steps to improve the process so as not to make a repeat of the past mistakes.

“We’re hoping that there’s a lot of lessons to be learned here,” he says. “And we’re going to be very diligent,” he adds. (Philippine Village Voice)

Guest Columnist: Romeo P. Marquez

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