‘There’s no illegal takeover of Silayan’

Community Opinion & Analysis Jun 16, 2005 at 3:50 pm

Nabus’s Reply to the Open Letter

Mr. Hermie Garcia
Editor & Publisher
The Philippine Reporter
Dear Hermie,

Thank you for allowing us the space to print our response to the letter written by Rose Tijam and others challenging the validity of the May 21st special general meeting of Silayan Community Centre, and the consequent election of new members of its Board.

Rose Tijam et al raised a number of items in their letter but purposely omitted the more important issues that really prompted members and clients of Silayan to exercise their democratic right to choose the right people to lead them and who will be responsible in keeping Silayan truly a center for the residents of the area comprising the St. Jamestown complex, Regent Park, and Cabbagetown, and even outside this catchment.

We would like to offer you a chronology of the events that culminated to the May 21st special general meeting of Silayan.

1. On January 5, 2005, more than a hundred members and clients of Silayan wrote and signed a petition to the Board of Silayan raising concerns about the way Silayan was being managed. They were highly critical of Silayan’s then executive director, Evelyn Laraya, Silayan former president, Rose Tijam, and some members of the Board. In particular they disapproved of the manner the said people made decisions without consulting the other members of the Board. They were bothered by their arrogance and their complete disregard of the democratic process prescribed by Silayan’s constitution and by-laws. They also did not agree with the recent plan of these said people, which was never discussed with the Board of Silayan, to move Silayan’s administrative functions to an office in Dundas and Spadina, a relocation that would cause serious difficulties to most members and clients in the catchment’s area, especially our seniors and those who have little children.

2. Rose Tijam, then president of Silayan, telephoned some of the people who signed the petition asking them if they understood the petition they signed. Those people who were called by Rose Tijam complained to us that they were insulted. Many of them protested that Rose Tijam also harassed them.

3. On March 11, 2005, Rose. Tijam, without the Board’s knowledge, wrote a letter to the signers of the petition addressing them in a disrespectful manner as “Year 2004 Members.” Rose wrote that the petitioners did not have a right to voice their opinion because they have lost their membership in Silayan for failing to pay their membership fees for the year 2005.

According to Article III of Silayan’s constitution and by-laws, a member who has not paid membership fees and has financial obligations to Silayan loses his or her good standing and the rights to vote and run for office, but not the right to participate in Silayan’s activities or the right to voice his or her opinions concerning the organization. So Rose Tijam was wrong and was making an utterly false statement. It is our belief that members or clients of Silayan always have the right to voice their opinions or criticisms about the organization or its leadership, whether or not they have paid their membership fees. Furthermore, since Silayan’s programs are funded by government funds, Silayan has also an obligation not to infringe on rights guaranteed under Canada’s Charter of Rights. Free speech is a democratic right every person in Canada enjoys, and no one can take this away. Coming from a member of the local community press, Rose Tijam’s statement that members have no right to speak because they have not paid their membership dues has very serious chilling effects on the fundamental freedoms every person in Canada enjoys. The last time we checked, Canada is still a democratic country and not the kind of society Rose Tijam must have known during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
Rose Tijam’s letter to the petitioners also contradicted one of the aims and objectives of Silayan, which is to establish and operate a community center that is available to all members of the community. Silayan is a community centre that is open to all. And when you open Silayan to everyone who is in need, you also open Silayan to feedback from the community, whether it is positive or negative. Naturally, not everyone will be satisfied. There are those who will always complain about Silayan’s services or even its leadership. And no one is immune to criticism. To criticize or voice one’s opinions is integral to the democratic process.

4. Furthermore, Rose Tijam accused the petitioners of being libelous, thus creating a wider divide between her and the members of Silayan. Silayan members, however, know that Rose Tijam was wrong and that she was simply threatening them to keep quiet. In fact, the membership believed that Rose Tijam has lost her credibility as a leader and has no moral clout left to speak on behalf of any one in Silayan’s catchment.

5. Rose Tijam started consulting with lawyers about matters involving Silayan and the board without prior discussion or authorization by the board. She did not even give the plain courtesy to inform other members of the board about her plans and actions prior to release of certain policy statements, on advice of his lawyers, on significant decisions and issues affecting Silayan and its community. Rose Tijam believed that her power was absolute and that she could do whatever she wanted. She distributed forms to solicit applications for membership in Silayan. The forms listed several aims and objectives of Silayan that were not the same aims and objectives presently enshrined in Silayan’s constitution and by-laws. Again, Rose Tijam was attempting to circumvent the democratic process by unilaterally deciding on her own to change Silayan’s aims and objectives.

6. Rose Tijam has accused everyone who was critical of her leadership of libel, slander, and even of violation of conflict of interest guidelines. She has accused Gene Lara of violating the conflict of interest guidelines in hiring her daughter as a human rights resource person, yet she kept quiet about the fact that she, too, received an honorarium as a resource person in the same project. At least, Gene Lara’s daughter has the integrity to donate back to Silayan the money she received. Rose Tijam disapproved of Gene Lara’s intention to run as a Board Member of Silayan, saying it contravened the requirements of the laws and regulations governing registered charities. She kept invoking the charities act in accusing Ramon Lara, Gene’s son, of conflict of interest for sitting as a member of the Board. Yet she failed to invoke the same regulations governing registered charities when Evelyn Laraya, then Silayan’s Executive Director, hired her own brother and paid him the generous amount of $3,000.00 for performing during the recognition night in honour of Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, former MP from Winnipeg, a very clear case of conflict of interest. Silayan’s Board did not even waive the conflict of interest guideline in order to allow Evelyn Laraya to hire her own brother and pay him a huge sum of money. Rose Tijam finds it so easy to invoke any law or regulation only when it suits her sinister purpose.

7. Ramon Lara was elected by members of Silayan during the 2004 annual general meeting. He was nominated to be a member of the Board because of his outreach with gays and the transgender group, and not because he was Gene Lara’s son. Ramon Lara has never participated in any discussion or decision by the Board about matters concerning Gene Lara’s work with Silayan. Neither Ramon Lara or Gene Lara has benefited financially from Silayan on account of their relationship. This is not like Evelyn Laraya hiring her own brother and paying him $3,000.00 of Silayan money, and Rose Tijam and the rest of her group trying to sweep this issue under the rug.

8. On April 29, 2005, by two-thirds majority, the Board met in a special meeting to address Silayan’s leadership crisis and Rose Tijam’s irresponsible behaviour as its president. All members of the Board were notified of the special meeting. Delfin Palileo and Doris Nabor expressed their regrets for being unable to attend but Rose Tijam and Erna Opena simply disregarded the notice. Rose Tijam claimed she was the only one authorized by Silayan’s by-laws to call a meeting. What she didn’t know was by a two-thirds majority, the Board could meet to deal with extraordinary issues.

There were six members of the Board present during that meeting: Willie Nabus, Carmen Subibi, Constantine Cabarrios, Ed Rodas, Ramon Lara, and Aurora Medrano. There was a two-thirds majority present, disregarding Delfin Palileo’s membership with the board as unauthorized because he could not sit as Board member for more than six years under the by-laws.

The Board passed a motion disassociating with Rose Tijam’s letter to the petitioners of January 5, and another motion declaring a vote of non-confidence in Rose Tijam as president of Silayan, and to replace her for lack of leadership, violation of Silayan’s constitution and by-laws, violation of Silayan’s conflict of interest guidelines, blatant disregard of the democratic process of making decisions as mandated by Silayan’s by-laws and established board procedures, and for making autocratic decisions on behalf of Silayan Community Centre. The Board also passed a motion replacing Delfin Palileo as treasurer of Silayan and the appointment of interim officers. The Board also decided to call a special general meeting of the membership on May 21, 2005 in order to ratify their decisions.

9. With respect to the New Horizons for Seniors Grant, Gene Lara was the one who was contacted about it by the funding agency at the very beginning. Rose Tijam assigned the task of preparing the project proposal to Gene Lara and Aurora Medrano in two days’ time. Regardless of who ever made the final proposal, what is important is that there is a program that is going to be funded and will benefit the community. There is no reason to crow about whose proposal was chosen.

For the information of the community, all mail addressed to Silayan is delivered to Cabbagetown
Town Youth Center where we pick it up afterwards. The truth about the cheques is that not only one was missing but two. One is a cheque for St. James Town Festival in the amount of $5,000 and the New Horizons cheque – which the government has replaced and was received by Silayan before the May 21st meeting. Considering that Rose Tijam has not prepared and delivered a financial audit of Silayan during her term, the six board members decided to hold on to the cheque until all the issues were settled. How could Rose Tijam and her group responsibly handle another fund from the government when they could not produce a financial audit of Silayan? Even before the New Horizons cheque was received, there was already a resolution from the Board for a moratorium on disbursement of funds by Rose Tijam and Delfin Palileo, pending the determination of Silayan’s organizational and leadership issues.

10. On May 21, 2005, the general membership of Silayan met at its premises at 240 Wellesley Street. Rose Tijam and her group came not to attend and participate in the meeting but for the purpose of shouting down the other members by repeatedly calling the meeting illegal. Members of her group took turns in monopolizing the microphone, obviously with the objective of frustrating the neutral moderator at that time so she would be unable to proceed with the meeting’s agenda. The moderator kept reassuring Rose Tijam and her group that they would be given a chance to speak so long as they would observe the rules of the meeting. But Rose Tijam and her group would not back down. Until one member of Silayan took the initiative to grab the microphone from Rose Tijam saying “We are not in a dictatorship. We are in Canada now.” That was enough to silence Rose Tijam and her group who then decided to walk out of the meeting.

Given the circumstances, although we are not condoning the grabbing of the microphone as a courteous act, the meeting proceeded as orderly as possible, and the general membership ratified the decisions made by the Board on April 29. The general membership also terminated the terms of Rose Tijam and her group as Board members, which is allowed under Silayan’s by-laws provided it was approved by two-thirds of those in attendance. All the resolutions passed by the general membership in that meeting were approved unanimously.

Silayan, today, is entering a very crucial phase in its reorganization. We are now moving toward restoring the community’s faith in Silayan as its own community centre, one that pays attention to its needs and demands, and with a Board that fosters a free exchange of ideas, not arrogance and autocratic leadership. The community has spoken on May 21st; the people’s voice has been heard.
The Silayan Board does not want to be involved in an idle controversy by responding time and again to a pack of lies spread through open letters to the local community press. We are writing this response simply to expose the truth, and not to foment any further controversy. We believe there is a proper venue to redress the grievances aired by Rose Tijam and her group. If they believed they were correct, then nothing should stop them from initiating a court challenge, instead of resorting to the court of public opinion when in fact the community has already discredited them.

The new Silayan Board has all the minutes, files with a total of 122 documented records and messages supporting the removal for cause of Rose Tijam and her group. Our records are an open book, and anyone interested to scrutinize them is free to do so by booking an appointment with the Secretary or with the President. These records are up to date and include the proceedings and latest minutes of the May 21st general membership meeting.

Rose Tijam still doesn’t get it; She cannot be an objective reporter and at the same time hold a responsible position in a community organization that can be the object of public criticism. She should blame herself on why things stunk under her term. There is no justifiable excuse for failed leadership and inability to keep the board united and to inspire a spirit of community despite the chaos. Taking a leave for 7 days from her position as vice president of the Philippine Press Club in order to hold a media conference to save face will not restore the loss of confidence issue against her. The press club makes the right move to distance itself from Rose but to place any reservation for truth is quite another.
Again, we reiterate that there is no “illegal takeover of Silayan. That is only the opinion of Rose Tijam. We had already answered this inquiry on a fact sheet incorporated on the May 21st meeting. We are attaching minutes of the meeting for your reference.

Rose Tijam has one time belittled the past 35 years of glory of Silayan by indicating that never in its history that a comprehensive plan or compliance with the law was adhered to. What an embarrassing conclusion and an irresponsible statement! Now, she is asking for help from the very people she has shamed and accused of libel and slander to support her. Our community need not be alarmed, for these are the same people {Tijam, Palileo, Opena and Nabor] who were responsible for Silayan’s leadership crisis, and that the community has in fact gotten rid of them during the May 21st general meeting. This is the very same group who showed up on May 21st and who tried to block the democratic proceedings, challenged the body not to proceed, and asked the members to take their side but failed – they could not convince anyone in that august body, so they walked out not even before the agenda was presented. The community decided, and history was made.

We repeat: If Rose Tijam and her group honestly believe that we have committed any illegal act, then they should pursue this matter to the proper authorities and stop spreading lies to the community. We do not want to be subjected to any further distraction, as our priorities are to serve the community, and not any individual person. We have all the documentations to prove we are right, and no matter what, lies are lies, and Rose Tijam should try to understand it better.

The new leadership of Silayan is as transparent as you can get, and we will entertain all questions. Every one is free to ask any member of the Board or Willie Nabus, the official spokesperson of Silayan.

For the Managing Board,
SGD Willie Nabus, SCC President