NEW YORK — When the rain stopped, the annual PIDCI elections were over. The main hall of the Lovin’ Life Learning Center in midtown Manhattan remained vibrant with cheers. Congratulatory pats in the back of both winners and their supporters became a normal sight as the grueling candidates’day came to end. Smiles abound from faces of those that remained in the hall but those that lost the elections were nowhere in sight.
Fe Martinez was declared president of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Saturday, Oct. 1, after garnering 157 votes out of the 229 votes cast by representatives of 266 member organizations. Her opposition, Rene Ballenas, standard bearer of the United Team, received 62 votes.
According to Tess Lobo, chair of the Elections Committee, of the 149 member organizations that renewed their membership, 127 voted and of the 117 new member organizations, 102 cast their votes. There were 37 ballots left.
In an unprecedented move, shortly after Martinez and her slate of board of directors were declared winners, Consul General Mario De Leon administered their oath of office. Elected with Martinez were her entire Power Team candidates for six board of directors’ vacant seats. The new members are Albert Diala and Angie Molina, both of whom received 164 votes; Romeo Somodio, with 149 votes; Irra del Rosario and Jenny Vi Nguidula, each with 148 votes; and Rey Flores 143 votes.
They will be joining board members who each have a year left on their term of office: Art Diongon, Raul Estrellado, Tess Lobo, Antero Martinez, Elvira Reyes and Benjie Santos, Jr., MD. Martinez who also has a seat on the board will give it up to an appointee.
Ballenas’ candidates for board members whom he handpicked to join him in his quest to clean up PIDCI lost as well. Nida Cortez and Luis Pedron each received 73 votes, Gregorio Agulan, 61 votes; and Pancho Bernaldez, 56 votes. Two of Ballenas candidates did not qualify.
The candidates were presented during a short program which included Joji Jalandoni, outgoing president; PIDCI founding president, Reuben Seguritan; Sofia Abad, treasurer; and Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr.
Former PIDCI board member, Rev. Gaudencio Soriano, led a prayer invoking God’s guidance over the proceedings of the elections, peace and love.
Seguritan traced the beginnings of the PIDCI, which he said, is now beginning to mature. He hoped that the past brought about some lessons learned. He wished that member organizations voted the right people to lead PIDCI this year. Consul General de Leon echoed the same sentiments and urged that everyone respected the results of the elections.
“While each candidate has expressed his/her desire to serve the community, only winners of these elections are chosen by the people to serve,” he said. “But everyone is a winner since we are all working towards a cause and that is commemorating our Philippine Independence day,” he added.
Abad reported the financial statement of PIDCI. She said that expenditures from two past administrations were carried over to the current year, which resulted in a negative balance.
Ballenas, who spoke after Martinez’s turn, opened his three-minute timed speech with an introduction of himself and what he and his team were to do if elected.
He said that his team was the United Team that will clean up PIDCI and address the disunity that has been going on for many years. He also said that PIDCI has been ran by people who only serve to further their personal interests and not of the interests of all. The audience cheered and seemed to express its agreement.
But while voting was going on, Ballenas approached the “resolution” table manned by lawyers Manny Quintal, PIDCI legal counsel, Felix Vinluan, Jr. and Billy Vidal, to lodge a protest on apparent irregularities committed by Martinez’s camp. He asked which body needed to hear his complaints if he [Quintal] was unable to take action on them. Quintal responded that since he [Ballenas] is a member of the board, he should let the board know about his concerns.
“Would you protest if you win the elections?” Quintal asked. Ballenas, together with his campaign manager, moved away from the table and left the main hall appearing disappointed.
A little later, former PIDCI president, Gerry Austria, also approached the “resolution” table and complained about the voting process and the attendant delay it was causing. Vinluan asked him if he was able to vote and a muffled response was all that was heard from Austria showing the same sentiment that Ballenas had.
The canvassing and tabulation of ballots began at 5:50 P.M. A half hour later, Martinez was pulling away with 157 votes registered to her name with only 30 votes on board for Ballenas. Martinez’s team were following the same pattern over Ballenas’ own. This led to some questions about the ongoing trend which ran counter with cheers and apparent favorable light Ballenas and his team were having from the audience during the candidates’ speeches.
A representative from Connecticut was cautious to offer a comment saying that none of those cheers came from voters. “What matters,” he said, “was who cast the votes, not the cheering squad.”
As the votes were being tallied, Ballenas and his team remained secluded in a separate room away from the main hall in an apparent strategy session. In a short interview with Ballenas, he was asked what was next for him. Ballenas expressed his frustration and questioned the legitimacy of the elections.
“I do not consider the results of these elections legimate. There are violations of the elections process… We were not given the same opportunity as the other side. I also question the new member-organization list which is flawed,” he said.
Ballenas also alleged that two bus-loads of voters were brought in by Martinez. “How could they do that? I cannot in conscience accept that,” a seemingly frustrated Ballenas said in the presence of his team mates. His fellow candidate also offered an observation questioning the presence of two alumni associations from one university in Manila.
“One is with a letter ‘S’ and the other without it,” he said. “That is blatant manipulation.”
Ballenas said he will not file a lawsuit. “Not because it costs money, but don’t get me wrong, I could do it but I won’t,” he said. Instead, he said, “he will just have to inform the Attorney General.”
In the past, PIDCI has been mired into litigation but ended up with a court ruling favoring PIDCI and its incumbent officials.
“The last couple of years of PIDCI election of the Board, have always been a challenge. A lot of misunderstanding, questions of election integrity/ethical code but the law has always prevailed,” Maria Mamawal commented.
She said the “incoming and current PIDCI Board of Directors have always been protected by the ByLaws and will always be the protector of these volunteers.”
“Of course everyone wants to win. Anyone in a contest whether in sports or political office, or to get a lead role in a play, wants to be declared the winner. Not all can win, however,” wrote Loudette Avelino in a letter provided to the media two days after the elections.
“But very sadly to a Filipino, whether running for political office in the Philippines or running for the leadership of PIDCI or other organizations, defeat is an insult and defeat is deemed to be the result of nothing more than being cheated in some form or another. And they set out to litigate the outcome, form new or splinter group organization, etc. It is never about the campaign lacking focus or failure to do what is necesary to win the hearts and votes of member organizations,’ added Avelino.
But Avelino ended her letter with a hope. “…As PIDCI matures and more importantly, as future candidates come into the fold, more equipped to take on defeat along with victory, the Filipino and Filipino-American can celebrate Independence Dahy with true pride, coming together as a united people.”
After the impromptu swearing-in ceremony led by Consul General de Leon, Martinez thanked all her supporters and the people that came that day. Meanwhile, PIDCI will elect its new members of the Executive Committee composed of the Vice President, the Secretary and the Treasurer. It will appoint a new Internal Auditor, a new Legal Adviser and a replacement of Martinez to complete her remaining term as board member.