NEW YORK – Ner Martinez emerged victorious as president of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI) after a rowdy afternoon that marked its annual election meeting held last Saturday at the Church of the Holy Trinity in the upper east side of Manhattan. Martinez defeated Ollie David with a margin of 23 votes, 49 to 26.
This is the first time that the presidency was contested after a lengthy period following a four-year term (2012-2015) of Fe Martinez (no relation to Ner) and a two-year term of Dr. Pros Lim (2016-2017). The last contested election was between Fe Martinez and Rene Ballenas, which also had a similar story of its own.
Ner Martinez took with him his entire slate of candidates which would fill six of the vacant board of director seats. One of his earlier candidates, Margie Wisotsky was disqualified by the Committee on Election (Comelec) after her organization did not renew its membership.
Joining Martinez as part of his 2018 team are Joyce Aligarbes, who topped the election with 46 votes, Chris de Guzman (45), Carmeli “Jojo Paredes” Garcia (44), Rely Manacay (40), Thomas Ludena (35) and Mateo Reyes, Jr. (42). Sofia Abad (30) was the sole candidate from the opposing team to clinch a seat.
Two tables were set up to facilitate the processing of papers of people voting. One table was only for presidents, which was supervised by Helen Kwong. The other table, which was intended for proxy votes, had three people: Margie Wisotsky, Rowena Garana and Rianne Avendula. Once a voter’s paperwork has been verified and cleared, a small slip of paper was given to the voter to get a ballot. This paper was given to Rose Mejia for her to release a ballot to the voter.
Claims of no-representation in Comelec
Before the canvassing of votes started, David immediately lodged a complaint to Raul Estrellado, Comelec chair. She said that her team did not have equal representation in the Comelec staff and slammed the conduct of elections. She mentioned the physical removal of Ronnie Mataquel, co-chair of the membership committee, appointed by the president to sit by the proxy’s table.
“We want to stop this until the proxy papers are reviewed,” David said. “All papers should remain intact.”
Juliet Payabyab, who lost with David, followed suit rousing their supporters to speak up, overpowering Estrellado’s voice who told her that she was “out of order.” Menchie Pulido, wife of former parade grand marshal Dr. Leonidas Pulido, another candidate who lost, expressed her own complaints.
Sensing that the situation was getting out of hand, Dr. Pros Lim, outgoing PIDCI president, took the floor and intervened in the ensuing shouting match between Estrellado and angry supporters of David.
“Let’s be civil to one another. Election has been done. The member organizations have voted, we must accept the result of that process. If you have any complaints about the procedure or result of the election, write a complaint right away,” Lim said. “We cannot shout at each other down because it will not serve any purpose.”
The crowd respected his request and remained calm. Martinez’s vote-count was on a run-away trend registering 30 votes against David’s 10 in a matter of minutes. His team’s performance was on the same trend as his. Out of the 96 votes allowed to vote, about 75 member-organizations cast their votes.
As votes were being tallied, it became clear also that not all voters opted for “straight ticket voting”. Some voted for the top post and selected different names of candidates for board director. On two occasions, the choice was Martinez but the directors were all for David’s slate. Similarly, on one occasion, David was selected but took Martinez’s candidates. There were also two surprising votes wherein only board members were selected.
After all winning candidates were known, Estrellado proceeded to proclaim them exercising his authority vested in PIDCI bylaws as Comelec chair. PIDCI legal counsel Manny Quintal called the winners to the front to take their oath of office.
Cries of protest erupt anew
David, however, stood up again and protested. She restated that there was a “standing protest” and that the winners should not take their oath of office yet. She questioned proxy votes that were allowed including votes which they considered suspicious since business cards were presented as a form of ID. However, the Conflict Resolution Committee, composed of lawyers Leopoldo Abad, Felix Vinluan and Manny Quintal, said that when these were presented to them by the Comelec staff, the IDs were rejected which denied the individual to vote.
Meanwhile, in the background, Mataquel, who was by the proxy table, was carried away on a chair by three PIDCI security people. They were instructed to remove him from the polling place. Mataquel insisted to stay despite being told that he was not authorized to be there since he was not part of the Comelec.
“The president instructed me to be here,” said Mataquel. “I wanted to ensure that signatures of people voting on proxy matched the records that I have.
Lim issues statement to the media
In a statement sent by PIDCI to the media on Monday night, Lim maintained that “his [Mataquel] concerns on the proxies were heard and considered. As in previous elections, all issues about proxies are referred to and resolved by the Conflict Resolution Committee. His defiance and refusal to obey the decision of the Comelec Chair, and confirmed by the Conflict Resolution Committee, necessitated that he be removed from the proxy registration area.”
As to the 911 call which sent police officers outside of the Draeser Hall, Lim said that he has not confirmed that they [police] came because of a “voter who claimed that a certain press person ‘harassed’ her parents after they voted.”
David’s camp also claimed that a known family of four came to cast proxy votes representing four organizations. When two members of the family were asked by the media which organizations they were representing, they were at a loss. “Wonder Girls”! “PIDCI”! were heard as their responses. PIDCI has not clarified this issue.
Quintal said that any protests should be made in writing. “In the meantime, your statements here will not prevent the declaration of winners,” he said.
Also, in the same statement, Lim restated PIDCI’s position on protests citing a provision of its bylaws, Art. V, Sec. 6. A protest “has to be signed by an incumbent president or highest official of the protesting member organization and endorsed by majority of its individual members.”
According to PIDCI bylaws (Article 5, Sec. 8), “the proclamation of winning candidates shall not be postponed, delayed or withheld by reason of any protest concerning the conduct of the election.”
Consul General speaks
Before Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega, honorary chair of PIDCI, inducted the new president and set of directors as a matter of tradition, she said that in every election, whether in private or public entities “emotions run high”.
She reminded the community that PIDCI has been doing this “for the community, for the country, for the Filipino-Americans’ identity and level of awareness and participation not only in New York, US Northeast but throughout the entire community in the US” for several decades now.
“Do not lose sight of that,” she said. “Everything we do, the processes we are involved in reflects upon us as a community, as professionals that are reflective on the value and importance we give to what we are doing.”
She also said that “should there be a formal declaration of any complaint or concern,” the PIDCI board should take it upon themselves to address these concerns, to review them and allow them to be aired and heard.”
However, Dizon-de Vega said this should be done in the “spirit of constructiveness, forward-looking and it must be done for the benefit not of individual candidates or individual concerns but for the improvement of the entire organization.”
She repeated her request to PIDCI leadership that the outgoing Board prepare a full complete report of all the work it has done, which is to be disseminated to all member organizations, volunteers, sponsors and supporters of PIDCI.
“It should be complete — what you have accomplished, what your plans were, the extent to which these plans were implemented and the future work of the incoming Board. All concerns need to be addressed such as a full accounting of what transpired in the last year so that the new Board can start fresh and situate themselves in what they want to accomplish.”
She encouraged the old and the new Board to sit together by its first meeting and have a full disclosure of everything to address these concerns. “Not after the next parade but now.”
Consulate in an advisory capacity
Some community leaders have suggested to do away with PIDCI and have the Consulate take over the responsibility of organizing and operating the annual independence day parade and celebration. Dizon-De Vega said that all consulates are not allowed to do this. It can only provide support in an advisory capacity. As representatives of a sovereign government in the U.S. or elsewhere, consulates cannot handle financial transactions intended for a local organization or enterprise.
“It is not my place to pass judgment,” she said. “It is up to the organization to take my advice in pieces or wholesale.”
Lim said in his statement that “candidates who lost should accept the results of the elections. They can always try next year or thereafter”. He added that “PIDCI is governed by rules which must be observed by all members. Call for actions that violate the By-laws cannot be permitted.”
He also invited those who have suggestions to change some things in PIDCI to submit them. “We cannot solve alleged PIDCI problems by shouting [at each other] after every contested election. It is the joint responsibility of the officers and members [of] PIDCI to keep it free from alleged irregularities,” said Lim.