Enverga replies to critics, decries ‘media bullying’

News & Features Apr 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm

By Dyan Ruiz 

 

SEN. TOBIAS ENVERGA, JR.

 

Senator Tobias “Jun” Enverga addressed the public criticisms and “media bullying” aimed at him and his wife Rosemer Enverga through a speech and question and answer period at a Knights of Rizal assembly.

The Knights of Rizal (Canada Region) held a Special Assembly on the afternoon of Sunday, March 17 with Senator Enverga as the guest speaker at the Kalayaan Cultural Community Centre in Mississauga. The Knights of Rizal is a civic and patriotic organization based on the teachings of the Philippines’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

While the Senator did not name any specific publication in his speech, during the question and answer period that followed, there were many references to the coverage by Balita, a Filipino-Canadian newspaper based in the Greater Toronto Area. Since being nominated to serve in Canada’s Upper House in September 2012, he and his wife Rosemer have been the subject of many negative articles in Balita and internet videos in PhilVoiceNews headed by Balita writer, Romy Marquez.

“We have been unfairly portrayed by some in the media sector even to the point of calling us names– thieves, crooks,” Enverga said in his speech.

“Even those people who have expressed openly their support on us have been and are being maligned. But thank you to most of you who are undeterred on all these bullying, regardless of the scare tactics on you and your family,” he continued.

“Publishing false claims and poorly researched articles for the sake of selling a good story is unethical,” he told the some 100 people gathered who responded in applause.

Enverga said as soon he was appointed Senator, “the attack became personal and outside the bounds of what the issues were eleven or twelve months ago and that was the PIDC audit on the financial report submitted by Rosemer.” This was in reference to one of the main points of criticism against the Envergas in recent coverage.

Rosemer Enverga’s management of beauty pageants for the Philippine Independence Day Council (PIDC) was put into question following a March 14, 2012 press conference in which the former President of the PIDC, Minda Neri, reported the organization’s poor financial position. This was in part due to the insufficient financial statements from Rosemer Enverga who was in charge of the pageants. Jun Enverga was the President of PIDC at the time.

Enverga said in his speech, “A PIDC Audit was already completed for the year in question, 2010. As per Buddy Ibe ‘In summary, we find that while there is a need to improve the reporting and documentation procedures as well as the banking practices. We were able to account for the revenue and expenses of the 2010 PIDC Beauty Pageant events subject to the scope limitations pointed out in our review.’”

He said, “What kind of investigative journalism is that? That keeps calling my wife something else?”

He said in his speech that when he was elected to the PIDC presidency in 2005 he inherited “thousands upon thousands in payables… some of them with threats of lawsuit.” With the help of the other officers of PIDC, he was able to better the financial situation of the organization and double the attendance to PIDC’s events, which include picnics, galas and the Mabuhay Festival.

Most of Enverga’s speech outlined his and his wife’s extensive work in charities, such as the “Spirit of Kalayaan Centennial Celebration” held at the then-named SkyDome in 1998, the Lucena City Association of Ontario, which sends medical equipment to the Philippines, and Typhoon Ondoy Calamity Relief Effort.

While it is common for politicians to talk about their accomplishments in speeches, the detailed catalogue of his charitable works also acted as a defense from other criticisms hurled against him and his wife.

The Envergas’ involvement with charities has also been criticized heavily by Balita. “The Great Escape, Filipino Version” by Marquez published on 19 Sept. 2012 said that the Envergas have made a “life-time career” from activities such as “fund-raising schemes.”

Enverga said that he established the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF) in order to address the challenge of “how to solicit for more donation, since most of the donors wanted a charitable tax receipt.” He said it is “registered as a charity with the provincial government of Ontario. The organization is still working on getting a charitable receipt authority from the Canada Revenue Authority.”

The audience was asked to submit comments to Enverga in written forms provided to the moderator Sonny Lauzon, a member of the Knights of Rizal. Lauzon grouped the questions together according to topic and asked the grouped questions in succession for Enverga to respond.

One of the questions read by Lauzon was, “Is it true Senator that you are inaccessible to the media and you do not communicate with your constituents?”

Enverga responded that his office is always open and that during his early days it was difficult because he did not have a secretary yet. He said many people have interviewed him from mainstream media and a few Filipinos including The Philippine Reporter. This journalist interviewed Enverga for Reporter articles in September following his appointment to the Senate and in December 2012. Enverga and his wife have refused to be interviewed by Balita.

“I will always answer whatever questions are necessary. As long as I believe it will be a fair reporting,” Enverga said.

The final grouping of questions was all related to allegations made in Balita coverage or the coverage itself. Questions were also asked about any legal actions the Envergas plan to take, the role of the Philippine Press Club- Ontario (PPCO) in dealing with the negative media, and if the Envergas made any money from their charitable work. The moderator did not reveal the names of the people asking the questions.

In response to the question of compensation, he said, “Not at all. Not a cent.” He referred to the line of credit he and his wife had to take out to ship medical supplies to the Philippines for the Lucena City Association of Ontario.

He said he does not plan to sue anyone over the coverage because it would be a distraction and he would rather focus on the community. Enverga hopes the PPCO becomes a “self-governing body to support our community” and called on the newly-elected President of the PPCO, Hermie Garcia, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of The Philippine Reporter to address the issue.

Later on, Garcia did address the audience at the request of one of the speakers. He said that he wrote a campaign article promising that he and now Vice-President of PPCO, Rose Tijam, will be “be very democratic, consult everyone in the organization, even ex-members, ex-Presidents, ex-officers and leaders of the community and whoever may want to give their opinion” regarding the issue of the coverage in local Filipino publications.

To that end, Garcia consulted with recent past Presidents of PPCO and plans to meet for the first time with the board soon to discuss the issues being raised. “We are in the process of finding the real sentiments of the members because an overwhelming majority of members have not spoken up,” Garcia said.

The Consul-General for Toronto Junever M. Mahilum-West sat with the panel at the event, which included Knights of Rizal head members Lapulapu Cana, Clem Cabillan, KOR Regional (Canada) head, George Poblete, and Rosemer Enverga.

The Con-Gen said in a message to the audience that she welcomes opportunities for dialogue instead of warring. She encouraged people to support Enverga’s work as the only Filipino-Canadian in the Senate. She concluded with a quotation from the movie Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

A former writer for Balita, Voltaire de Leon, also addressed the audience. He said, “I don’t have the right adjective for the kind of journalism that is being practiced now. When I wrote for Balita a long time ago, it was in opposition to the (Philippine) Martial Law regime.” He said he was, “extremely disappointed in what has happened in the past several weeks.” He encouraged people to sign a petition, “Call for Fair and Socially Responsible Journalism.”

The petition asks PPCO to address the “possible Code of Ethics violations” and was filed with PPCO on December 17, 2012. The petition on the Care2 petition website has 361 names as of the writing of this article.

This petition refers to a letter written about in a January 11, 2013 article in The Philippine Reporter, entitled “Complaint filed vs ‘harassment’ by local media.” The letter was written to the then president of PPCO Ricky Caluen about Balita’s coverage of the Envergas and another prominent Filipino-Canadian. It included comments by the writers of the controversial articles.

In an interview, Oswald Magno, who was involved in gathering signatures for the December letter to PPCO, said that he’s been the subject of attacks since the submission of the letter. He said that despite the many negative portrayals of him in Balita and PhilVoiceNews, he was never asked for an interview by their journalists.

In an email responding to questions posed by The Philippine Reporter about the concerns raised at the event by Enverga and others, the Editor-in-Chief of Balita, Tess Cusipag, said, “He cannot deny that we reached out to him and his wife for every story that we did. He ignored us all the time. Now what is he complaining about being ‘unfairly portrayed’?

“We are just reporting what has transpired in the community, there are lots more that we are working on. It is the community talking and we are just reporting them.”

She also said the petition is “fraudulent” and to “make sure those signatories are all living persons and not just names taken from the cemetery.” He continued, “who is Oswald Magno in the community anyway? He makes petition as a hobby.”

Care2 signatures require a valid email address and the names of the signatories are listed for the public after they are submitted if the person authorizes it. There are seven pages of names listed.

Cusipag also said that of the local Filipino newspapers, Balita has the “title of having the most lawsuits that we have fought for. In other words, we are not afraid, if we think that the community should know, we will publish it.”

In response to any possible action taken by PPCO on Balita, “Hermie Garcia is not in a position to pass judgment on us. He’s in conflict because he’s my competitor. Any move he makes will have colour. Neither is PPCO in a solid footing to do any actions against Balita.”

Other questions posed to Enverga centered on old age security, dual citizenship, how winners of the Diamond Jubilee Award are chosen and immigration issues.

In a response to question by The Philippine Reporter on what Enverga is doing to better the conditions of caregivers and stop the moratorium on the immigration sponsorship of parents and grandparents, he said he was appointed to an advisory board for Citizenship and Immigration Canada and he would like to advocate for issues that are still outstanding for caregivers.