Saturday, 16 January 2021

Filipino Centre Toronto's Arrogance Dates Back Years

Five years and three months ago, the Filipino Centre Toronto ended its intransigence and welcomed back one of its founding members, Dr. Francisco Portugal, reinstated his membership, and agreed to pay at least $400,000 to cover the cost of protracted litigation. 


I covered its annual general meeting on Oct. 22, 2014, and filed the story below. For reasons not explained, the story was removed from the website of Balita, the paper I covered it for, although it appeared in its print edition for that month. 

Because of its continued relevance to the Filipino community and also for historical purposes, I'm running the story again and publishing it on my blog at: https://filwebchannelmagazine.blogspot.com/. Here goes . . .

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Volume 2, Issue No. 52
OPINION/COMMENTARY
/ News That Fears None, Views That Favor Nobody /

. . . . . A community service of The Filipino Web Channel (TheFilipinoWebChannel@gmail.com) and the Philippine Village Voice (PhilVoiceNews@gmail.com) for the information and understanding of Filipinos and the diverse communities in North America . . . . . .
 
 
Our latest as of Saturday, January 16, 2021, a re-issue of the article published October 25, 2014 

~ It all boils down to a costly exercise of power. Five years after he was booted out of Filipino Centre Toronto, Dr. Francisco Portugal is restored without much fanfare, his dignity intact. The cost of fighting to regain his membership is at least $400,000 - the amount of money FCT spent in deciding to settle. As he explains it, "the defense of our right to speak, to dissent and to differ" was very much the core of the litigation that ended in his reinstatement.
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THE $400,000-SETTLEMENT
Filipino Centre Toronto's Costly Exercise of Power


By ROMEO P. MARQUEZ
Member, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada (NEPMCC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).




TORONTO - Two civilian-attired security guards greeted arriving guests to the annual general meeting of Filipino Centre Toronto on Wednesday, October 22 at 7 p.m. I had come 20 minutes earlier but it wasn't until almost an hour later, or shortly before 8, that something of a morality play began.

The day before, on Tuesday, Oct. 21, Rey Tolentino, chair of FCT board of directors, emailed the information that I could cover it. The authorization extended to 14 others. I had earlier conveyed to him and FCT president Linda Javier that I would be there for Balita newspaper and my own The Filipino Web Channel on YouTube.

Anonymous tipsters had alerted me to the meeting. They said Dr. Francisco Portugal, the family physician booted out in 2009 for alleged "conduct unbecoming", would be reinstated as a member in good standing. 

The information implied that FCT's claims of improper behaviour were all for naught, and that the organization was willing to swallow its arrogance to restore the doctor's dignity. That was the whole meaning of the story. FCT's contempt of Dr. Portugal cost it at least $400,000 in prolonged litigation.

"The annual general meeting has been scheduled for members only," Tolentino explained on Friday, Oct. 17, thus effectively barring me from coverage. However, I insisted that I would come as a journalist. "I do not mean to crash that meeting but I'm now invoking the public interest in being there," I wrote back.

Four days later, Tolentino replied, saying "the FCT Board has allowed members of the media to attend the AGM meeting". 

Apparently, the concern was that Dr. Portugal was going to turn the meeting into what Tolentino called "a circus". He explained: "We also heard that x x x and his cohorts at the Press Club is planning to crash the meeting so no press will be allowed".

I was not covering for either FCT or Dr. Portugal. My coverage was for the information and knowledge of the Filipino community, specifically those in the Greater Toronto Area where FCT draws support.

So it was quite obvious that the presence of two burly guards at the entrance to FCT's Rizal Hall was to thwart any attempt to stage a carnival of sorts. To their credit, the guards, despite Tolentino's statement that "ID required for entry," did not ask for press credentials before I was allowed in.

The long media table was situated far at the back directly across from the stage. To take good photos of the principal players from that distance would require zoom lens. Moreover, the audience had their backs turned against the media.

Deliberate or not, the situation was not conducive to coverage as the press was practically segregated and caged. Movement was restricted, according to officials, and only the hired videographer could shoot from the sidelines outside the press area.

As I expected, none of the 14 other media persons from the Press Club showed up. Not being a social event, I thought that the likelihood of their attendance was absolutely nil. It proved prophetic.

Inside the hall, the atmosphere was one of uneasy calm. I could sense the general hostility towards Dr. Portugal. When he came in with his wife, the room fell quiet. None had welcomed him. One person, Fred Gamboa of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association, stood up to greet him. Soon, the couple sat at the last row of the half-empty chairs.

The night's events started off with a prayer. With heads bowed, everybody looked supplicant. If the members present could be so religious as to open their meeting with an entreaty for divine help, why couldn't they show courtesy to a returning member? The thought crossed my mind.

Dr. Portugal seemed, and made sure to look like, an outcast. His demands for reinstatement after he was cashiered in 2009 had fallen on deaf ears, sparking a costly five-year campaign to reclaim his dignity. It proved disastrous, for FCT had to fork out at least $400,000 to fight a legal battle that many people said should have been settled right away.

FCT had not made any public announcement that it was reinstating Dr. Portugal. As the meeting had gone past the presentation and approval of financial statement, Tolentino called on Dr. Portugal to deliver his address.

I thought that it was disingenuous for FCT to just yield the floor to Dr. Portugal without any explanation that he was being restored, specially to outsiders. I did not know anything. I simply assumed that since he was given the floor to talk, his reinstatement was implied.

In the agenda, it said Dr. Portugal had five minutes for his address. Not one watch was synchronized, however. Linda Javier's husband Felino, seated at the media table, bellowed "times up" twice as a signal for Dr. Portugal to stop. A second later, Tolentino joined in. But actually, he still had 29 seconds to finish up.

Dr. Portugal persisted, saying: "I have timed my speech for five minutes". Whereupon Tolentino remarked: "Well, you're not getting . . . "  Dr. Portugal continued despite the protestations. A minute later, Tolentino ended it with a firm "I'm sorry your five minutes is . . . you had a maximum of five minutes". 

Raising his hands as a gesture of submission, Dr. Portugal simply gave in. Linda Javier explained loudly that the "terms of the settlement said five minutes max". It ended just like that. (Video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqlJH4SIYsc&list=UUjYsgGZZAP7lpqJczW4z47g).

In Dr. Portugal's conciliatory speech, the prospect of reconciliation looked promising. Ironically, however, what he fought over the years - "the defense of our right to speak, to dissent and to differ" - was quickly thrown out of the window by FCT's insolence.

FCT could have been magnanimous in defeat, although it wouldn't say so. Allowing him to continue would not have cost a minute. I read the last part, all of four short paragraphs, exhorting FCT to a dialogue and to rebuild.
Related video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmUpx-xg9YQ&list=UUjYsgGZZAP7lpqJczW4z47g&index=699).

Dr. Portugal's re-installation through an address to FCT members was for me a public thrashing of its leadership that had nearly brought the organization to its knees with litigation expenses of at least $400,000 - "monies," to quote him, "that could have spent on programs to benefit our people - our community".

The very principles that Dr. Portugal had fought for got another trouncing, courtesy of FCT again. 

The burly guards, the cold shoulder, the impounding of media in a corner, the stiff resistance to reconciliation - all by FCT - only strengthen Waves newspaper publisher Teresa M. Torralba's profound comment in Tagalog: "Naku parang may animosity pa rin sila." (Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved).

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