NEW YORK – Hot, fireworks, explosive, shocking, frustrating, unbelievable were some of the words expressed by the community at the Philippine Independence Day Council Inc. (PIDCI) Candidates Forum event sponsored by the Filipino American Press Club of New York (FAPCNY) held on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at Dahon Wellness Center in Woodside, New York.
“I can’t wait for this forum to begin,” quipped one community leader who travelled all the way from Long Island, New York. “This must be exciting. I want to see transparency and fairness in this election.”
Another one criticized PIDCI for not doing a similar event as the Press Club’s. “It’s a service to member-organizations at the very least,” she said. “I think the last one we had it was in 2011 when Fe Martinez and Rene Ballenas ran against each other for the presidency. Doesn’t PIDCI allocate funds for this purpose?”
Before the forum began, people were milling inside and outside of the room. Some huddled, silently sharing stories about PIDCI of the past and the present including questions of missing funds, membership list and changes they’d like to see in PIDCI.
Since Ollie David came earlier, some were asking if Ner Martinez and Gani Puertollano would be coming. It seemed that as candidates for president, more answers and views on critical issues were expected of them. David is an outgoing board director, Martinez is the executive director (without a vote in the Board) and Puertollano, has served twice as president. “What would people have said if they did not show up?” a guy seated beside this reporter asked.
To the surprise of some people, old hands who were involved in PIDCI for more than a decade ago like Nelia Ferrette and Ludi Hughes, were there as well. And those that were with them around that time — like Sofia Abad, Juliet Payabyab and Tambi Wycoco — are now candidates for board director. There were also former and outgoing board directors that came — Helen Kwong and Nonoy Rafael. Erno Hormillosa, who had volunteered his services for a number of years, raised questions that some considered as jaw-dropping.
They were all as interested as anyone in the room longing for answers to some nagging questions or rumors that they have been hearing in recent years about PIDCI. They wanted to get clear answers and the direction where PIDCI is headed.
The room temperature in the room was cool earlier and suddenly it got hot but tolerable as people trickled in and found their seats. The air conditioner had to be turned on. About 50 representatives from the community and eleven board member candidates came.
Candidates Archie Alvarez, Chris de Guzman, Stevenson Van Derodar, Aida Gamolo, Carmeli “Jojo Paredes” Garcia were not in attendance. Someone asked if they were really serious in seeking an office. “Or were they just coerced and assured of a win?”
David, Martinez, and Puertollano, together with Press Club forum co-moderators Cristina Pastor and Marivir Montebon, sat in front of the room facing the audience and the eleven board director candidates who came.
At precisely, 6:30 p.m. the forum began with Pastor welcoming everyone and informing them that the forum was being livestreamed and that the program was straight forward.
After the candidates introduced themselves and stated their respective motivation to run for office, the much-anticipated questions came to life. These questions dealt with financial reports, alleged missing funds, membership list, 501 (c)3 tax exemption, “fake”, “ghost” or inactive organizations, transparency and election-related concerns.
Both David and Martinez acknowledged that finances are under audit or investigation due to the resignation of the treasurer. A new treasurer has been appointed and it appears that there is a deficit. Since there are legal issues involved, they have been cautioned by lawyers not to talk about it pending results of an audit. Both hoped that a financial statement will be issued at the annual election meeting on October 7.
Puertollano took a different approach in his response and put the responsibility on the Board. If financial reports were not regularly provided, “the board of directors was not doing its job,” he said. “The board of directors is the governing body of PIDCI…That means that they are the watchdog…so I think everybody is liable. They should be exercising their fiduciary duty; if not, that is negligence.”
Board members Ronie Mataquel and Joycelyn Aligarbes defended the board and said that they were doing their part. Mataquel said “hopefully, the report will come out soon, supposed to be this week.” He added that the report should be able to show the financial standing of PIDCI.
Martinez, for his part, said that basic reports have been provided, “mostly in and out of money transactions. David said that they have requested for it for a long time but there was no report. None of the current board members knows the exact amount of the alleged missing money or deficit.
However, Board member Rely Manacay, who is running for re-election, broke his silence. When Dulce Barangan asked if a lawyer had been retained to consider the alleged missing funds or have it investigated, Manacay stood up and declared that “a lawyer has been retained, he [lawyer] is compiling all the evidence and some weeks from now we will be filing a case in New Jersey.”
Status of 501(c)3
As a not-for-profit corporation, PIDCI was able to obtain a tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, PIDCI has not been compliant in submitting its financial return for three consecutive years which automatically resulted in the suspension of its 501 (c)3 status.
A request for reinstatement was filed in March 2017 and remains pending. Martinez said that this was a setback and they are working on it. “All steps have been taken to rectify the situation,” he said.
Candidates demanded for a membership list for them to reach out to member organizations and pitch their campaign. “This is important for us to win,” Nanding Mendez, a candidate for board director said. He also mentioned that his firm, Fiesta in America, is a 501 (c)3 tax exempt organization, compiles a list of community organizations and is willing to share it with anyone.
He acknowledged, however, the difficulty of vetting these organizations. “They are not in Facebook, their contact details are incorrect, they are inactive,” he said. He encouraged everyone to have PIDCI published a list.
Puertollano implied that as in the past, the list was not always accurate. “It is a production,” he said, to which he was asked if what he meant was “fake” or ghost organizations. As was his experience in 2009, he said “30 to 35 are real organizations in this year’s current list of 98 organizations.”
Martinez said that a list was not provided due to privacy concerns. Some member organizations have complained about receiving calls and letters from everywhere. To mitigate this concern, he said the Board decided to keep the list in house and made it available only according to the provision of PIDCI bylaws.
Candidate Juliet Payabyab chimed in to clarify the issue. She said that according to the bylaws, member organizations are entitled to receive a membership list twice a year. This is different from a list of member organizations that are entitled to vote. She also said that in the 2013 bylaws there were so many good provisions but are now missing or have been changed.
Many, even those that are not candidates, expressed their resentment concerning Raul Estrellado as the sole person in charge of the Committee on Elections (Comelec). In an organization such as PIDCI, they claimed that besides a chairman, there should also be members in that committee.
David echoed the same concern and so has Payabyab.
“All certificates of candidacy or CoC go to one person only,” said Payabyab. “That person decides to qualify or disqualify.” Ferrette added that “that person should not be biased to a candidate and should not be the same person every year.”
Payabyab also raised her concern about a certain candidate whose organization has not renewed its membership to PIDCI but it turned out to have been renewed and paid for by someone else. She wondered why that person’s CoC was approved despite her informing “PIDCI authorities about it.”
Puertollano said that he had asked this person to step down.
New candidates challenge
First time candidates Thomas Ludena, Leonidas Pulido and Mateo Reyes were asked how they felt after hearing all these concerns. The overall theme of their response was that there is a glaring lack of transparency and the need for a significant organizational change. They all considered it a challenge to which Pulido, a former PIDCI grand marshal, reacted and said he will demand transparency. “If I don’t get that, I will be the first one to resign,” he said.
Laura Garcia was in the same page as with her fellow first-timers.