By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – For the first time in many years, concerned community leaders articulated boldly the uncomfortable issues of transparency and fund mismanagement at the first candidates forum of the Philippine Independence Day Council Inc. (PIDCI) early this week. Attendees asked brave questions and witnessed how old candidates hurled explosive revelations about each other’s conduct in the past that have caused the community’s growing distrust for its leadership.
The much anticipated forum, sponsored by the Fil-Am Press Club of New York, became an open space for the Filipino community to air their questions on election fraud, pilferage, fake member organizations, and financial mismanagement.
The PIDCI runs the largest Independence Day parade and cultural affairs outside the Philippines since it was founded in 1990. It was then called the Philippine Independence Day Committee under the tutelage of the Philippine Consulate General of New York. On February 14, 2002, PIDCI was incorporated and the Philippine Consulate remained its honorary adviser.
Officers of the FAPCNY thought that it was necessary to organize a candidates forum with the looming PIDCI elections on October 7, 2017. Days before the September 26 forum at the Dahon Wellness Center in Queens, FAPCNY vice chairperson Cristina Pastor was denied access to the voter-organizations list by Comelec chair Raul Estrallado. Apparently, it was because “it’s against Board rules.”
That incident marred PIDCI, one of the largest Fil-Am organizations in the East Coast, as having the reputation of being suspicious and inaccessible for its own community.
Need for transparency in membership and funds
Presidential wannabe Isagani Puertollano (Bulacan Medical Missions) said that of the current 98 organizations listed as members of PIDCI, only about 30 are real organizations. Puertollano, who was PIDCI chair in 2007, said it was time to become president again, when asked the reason why he was running for the position.
He also informed the attendees, about 40 leaders from various organizations, that in his watch PIDCI had earned $68,000 from the parade and spent roughly $28,000, thereby earning a net of about $30,000. Since then, Puertollano said, the financial situation and report of PIDCI has become dismal and inaccessible.
Board director reelectionist Jocelyn Aligarbes (Phil-Am Faces Inc.) said that the PIDCI is currently running on deficit but the current Board could not ascertain how much.
She and Ner Martinez, who are running under the ‘administration ticket’, repeatedly told the audience that the financial reports are being taken care of by accountants and auditors.
PIDCI earns hugely from rentals of food vendors during the parade as well as its major fund-raising events such as Mrs. Kalayaan and Grand Marshall’s Night.
PIDCI’s 501 c 3 status has been revoked by the IRS as a result of the Board’s failure to submit financial reports, most likely since 2013. The PIDCI treasurer Violeta McGough resigned in February this year and could not be reached.
A Rigodon of Explosive Revelations
Juliet Payabyab (United Mindoro International) literally dropped the bomb on someone who she alleged, but not named, as having misrepresented to be treasurer of his organization while seeking a Board director position. The audience grew hysterical at Payabyab’s expose.
Membership chair Ronie Mataquel promised an emotional audience that he will carefully look at the authenticity and qualifications of members to be able to act accordingly.
Payabyab later pointed at Board director wannabe Tambi Wycoco (IINN), who once served as Board Secretary, as having withheld all pertinent records that eventually led to a bitter and costly court battle among PIDCI officers between 2004 and 2005. Wycoco refused to respond to Payabyab’s contention.
In turn, Wycoco pointed out at Fernando Mendez, also a Board director wannabe, as having used the membership list for his personal business transactions.
Mendez, CEO of Philippine Fiesta USA, said that he was seeking a Board position at PIDCI citing that he has so much to contribute to its organizational advancement and promotional capability as a FilAm organization. He did not answer to Wycoco’s expose about him using the PIDCI membership list for his business.
Presidential candidate Olivia David (Tarlacqueno USA) said she will definitely do a clean-up once elected as president. She also wanted to undertake cultural heritage activities for the youth which is the mandate of PIDCI, other than the yearly parade.
Ner Martinez (Knights of Rizal New York), for his part, said that once elected as president, he and his team will continue to improve and innovate PIDCI.
Asked as to how he feels being the favored candidate of the incumbent administration, Martinez smiled and said in jest, I am must be good-looking.
At the end of the forum, Comelec volunteer Helen Kwong (CEBU organization), said the forum was not enough. There has to be a part two.
Fashion consultant Erno Hormillosa, who was among the earliest attendees to voice out his criticisms of having made to sign two different vouchers of the same event of PIDCI, said the forum was good to bring about change.
As to the conduct of the upcoming elections, Board director candidate Dr. Leonidas Pulido (Knights of San Lorenzo Ruiz) expressed concern on how a one-man Comelec with Board director Raul Estrallado, could take care of the entire election process. The candidates raised concerns on Comelec rules such as the provision on poll watchers and election protests.
Although many thought that the forum was a good start to improve PIDCI, some prominent community leaders opined that the elections should be postponed pending the release of the audited financial report, from 2013 to 2016, to the public. As they put it, transparency could restore the lost trust. (Featured photo by Lambert Parong shows PIDCI presidential candidates (l-r) Ner Martinez, Olivia David, and Isagani Puertollano with hosts Cristina DC Pastor, left and this writer.)
The full coverage of the PIDCI 2017 Candidates Forum (Boyet Loverita and Troi Santos)