If you wish to find former inhabitants of the planet of the apes, pay a visit to the Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT) at 4395 Sheppard Ave E, Scarborough, where FCT’s Board of Directors (BOD) holds meetings.
It is easy to spot them, as they are the ones who can see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil.
Much before the FCT building sale for $5.9 million, BOD ought to have known that there were substantial outstanding claims from co-board members for retroactive salaries and suppliers for services totalling $678,000.
BOD should have made sure that those (1) payables do not violate existing bylaws and (2) proper documentation like invoices, contracts of employment, and prior records of payables back up those claims. Otherwise, an independent audit is unavoidable. This is where FCT is now.
Indeed, it is not hard to conjecture that a good number of the BOD belongs to a gang who shine only in photoshoots and public grandstanding.
In the October 2018 AGM, the accountant who presented the 2016 Financials did not discuss the payables and referred to BOD the questions raised by members. He said he relied on the information and records provided by management. He neither reviewed nor audited the financial report, and therefore, he could not assure the reliability of the information. Subsequently, an AGM motion to have FCT conduct an independent third party audit was passed and approved by the membership with the media present.
Meanwhile, the accountant who prepared the 2017 and 2018 financial reports did not adequately explain the payables for retroactive salaries and other liabilities. He found it “difficult” to determine the correct figures. In short, they confirmed that FCT did not provide them with complete information.
Sad to say, the accountants who presented the financial reports during the 2018 and 2019 AGMs were not in any position to deal with the $678,000 payables. They had to sidestep the issue with clarifying statements.
FCT hired accountants, it seems, to lend an air of legitimacy to what may likely appear to be financial irresponsibility, intellectual dishonesty, if not potential fraud.
The BOD attended all these FCT annual general meetings, yet, not one FCT officer made a satisfactory response when concerned members questioned this irregularity. Neither did they reprimand the rude and uncivilized behaviour of individuals who heckled a speaker at the October 2, 2019 AGM. One of the hecklers is a board member, while the other is an FCT officer’s husband.
FCT President and CEO Mary Ann San Juan is undoubtedly the best person to respond to the payables issues and corresponding payments. However, she has not provided a single financial statement finalized and approved by the membership. Neither has she displayed a willingness to engage an independent auditor, a previously approved AGM motion.
Among the people who petitioned for a special general meeting and who wrote an open letter to follow up on the status of an independent audit include former FCT officers and concerned members: Dr. Mario Andres, Perla Andres, Rey Tolentino, Maria CJ De Villa, Ed Birondo, Evelyn Birondo, Malou Parcero, Bay Bernabe, Daisy Bernabe, Toots Evidente, Noel Cruz, Bobby Gabat, Bernie Carreon, Teresa Sevilla, Rob Fuerte, Frank Maralag, Rudy Naval, Myra Naval, Cecile Kolmegies, Mercedes Tolentino, Elisa Pardinas, Frank Villanueva, and Luna Vince.
San Juan signified her opposition to an independent audit in a letter to concerned members dated October 2, 2020. She said she wants “to discuss and identify the legal and financial justification for engaging an independent auditor, as well as the anticipated costs of an audit, staffing costs, staffing issues, resources and impact the requested audit may have on FCT’s community programs and finances.”
Well, if San Juan is afraid of an independent audit, she should at least respond to the following points in writing:
- Provide the finalized version, not a draft of the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 financial statements for membership approval.
- Indicate the specifics of the $300,000 reportedly paid to Dr. Victoria Santiago.
- Confirm the specifics of the $96,000 and $122,000 in back pay and allowances reportedly paid to FCT officers and members.
- Provide copies of withholding tax receipts for the payment of any salaries of FCT officers and members.
- Explain the $122,000 payment for taxes reportedly owed to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA).
- To disclose, for the sake of transparency, all remuneration and allowances of FCT officers, members, and staff.
The BOD ought to have the details behind the payables since they have the fiduciary responsibility to serve the Filipino community with diligence and honesty under the FCT Constitution.
But, think about it, the BOD might have arbitrarily junked the resolution for an independent auditor because they fear failing the audit or nobody cares if FCT goes to the dogs. It seems that public image is more important than fidelity to community service.
One might arrive at this conclusion from the fact that the BOD was unusually quiet when the accountant for the 2016 financial report refused to attest that the financial information was reliable.
Again, nobody questioned why the accountant for the 2017 and 2018 financial statements found it “difficult” to record the payables or IOU’s and matching payments to four individuals identified by FCT.
On June 6, 2019, FCT held a special general meeting with a bare-bones financial presentation justifying salaries, benefits, and legal expenses of FCT officers and members, using a new interpretation of the FCT Constitution, without the benefit of an amendment as required in Section 1 of Canada’s Corporations Act. An opinion from the Law Society of Upper Canada may help understand how FCT can follow guidance from the Corporations Act without twists and turns. The meeting ended with no resolutions passed, no financial status reporting, and no proper meeting minutes.
The Filipino community also deserves to know why San Juan banned the local Filipino media from attending further meetings after the October 2018 AGM.
One wonders if the BOD’s propensity to remain silent is the result of a mental block, loss of memory, fear of the unknown, or a combination of all of them. Or is it a case of the tribe faithfully following the scent of an alpha female?
But all is not lost yet with San Juan, the Ilonggo tribe’s Queen of Sheba, UP’s high-profile alumna, and Toronto’s quintessential ex-librarian. She could still win the day by cleaning up the unexplained expenditures at FCT and unload the unwanted baggage she inherited.
Simultaneously, one wonders if Chairman Efren de Villa, Vice President Teresa Lumanlan, Secretary Judith Gonzales, Treasurer Wendy Arena, and the BOD can help out in improving FCT’s governance, risk management, and compliance with government regulations.
If not, they might as well say goodbye to the faith and confidence that the members entrusted them. In other words, it would be their solemn duty to resign their posts.
by Socrates (Soc) Moreno
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