SHOCK, DISBELIEF, ANGER

Community News & Features Mar 9, 2018 at 5:53 pm
Customers with receipts of unremitted funds, from left: Rennel Mina, Delia Doria, Jocelyn Saludares, Manuel Gaspar, Natividad Vina and Nora Lagmay.        (Group photo courtesy of Cheol Joon Baek/Post City Magazines)

Customers with receipts of unremitted funds, from left: Rennel Mina, Delia Doria, Jocelyn Saludares, Manuel Gaspar, Natividad Vina and Nora Lagmay.
(Group photo courtesy of Cheol Joon Baek/Post City Magazines)

Mabini Express Shutdown: Customers in the dark, out thousands of dollars

[The Mallaris’] business thrived because of the people in their community.Michelle Lucas

According to the Pew Research Center, $2.24 billion was sent by migrants from Canada to the Philippines in 2016

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

That was the general reaction among Filipino-Canadian families and individuals after losing thousands of dollars in unremitted funds when Mabini Express, a money transfer service company, suddenly closed its doors last January.

York Regional Police Detective Constable Errol Dixon of the Organized Crime Bureau, Major Fraud Unit, stated that over 20 people have reached out to the police. “There are still people coming forward,” he said.

Gina Bronola, a North York-based caregiver who has lived in Canada for 10 years, sensed that something was amiss when she learned that the $3,700 she had sent to the Philippines never arrived. The money, a gift from her employer, was meant to help establish a small business that she had set up with her brother and sister-in-law.

Mabin-Express-GinaDespite her unwillingness to leave her 90-year-old employer alone at home, Bronola took a taxi to the store, located inside Promenade Shopping Centre in Thornhill, after days of unanswered texts and phone calls. At the door of the now empty store was a notice stating, “Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are no longer open for business.”
“I was standing there, frozen. I was just stuck for a few minutes,” recalled Bronola. “I didn’t know what to do, where to go or who to ask for help.”

The company, which has been in business for 25 years, is owned by Jesus “Jessie” and Teresita “Tess” Mallari. The couple was a prominent presence in the community, even attending the same church as many of their clients. Tess Mallari even personally attended to her clients, who would regularly call or text her for updates on their money transfers. That is, until the store closed and the Mallaris stopped responding, thereby leaving their clients in the dark.

“I’ve known them for about 20 years, they were friends,” said Rosie Mojadera, who lost $1,000 through Mabini Express after asking her brother to transfer the money on her behalf for her recent trip to the Philippines. “My allowance [during my trip] was so tight. It wasn’t easy money – I’m retired, I’m 78 years old.”

Banding Together

According to the Pew Research Center, $2.24 billion was sent by migrants from Canada to the Philippines in 2016. And, often, the money is meant to assist family members back home.
On January 6, Manuel and Norma Gaspar sent $10,000 in cash through Mabini Express to help a family member repair their house, which had been further damaged by a typhoon. “This money they’ve been saving for years, it’s not for themselves but for the Philippines,” said their daughter, Michelle Lucas. She added that her father, who works for an automotive company, has damaged his shoulders, while her mom works for a fruit salad company, cutting fruit inside a freezer.

Frustrated and in need of answers, Lucas turned to Facebook where she found people like Bronola who were sharing their stories online. Lucas set up #MabiniExpress Victims, a public Facebook page where people connected with others who found themselves in a similar situation.

The group quickly grew and members decided it was time to meet in person. “It was tragic and heartbreaking,” said Lucas of the group’s first meeting. “These people don’t come from money; they’re nannies, caregivers and personal support workers.”

Mabini-Express-ownersAfter speaking with group members, she estimated a total of $270,000 in missing funds. Amounts varied from $800 to as much as $90,000. One person said that the money they lost was meant for a relative who was in the hospital. Another member had loaned the Mallaris $100,000 – it was equity he earned after selling his house.

“Even if I don’t get my money back, I hope they at least get their money back,” said Bronola, who met with the family soon after the closure. “[The family] sacrificed everything – they weren’t buying anything and they were working so hard. And then they’re just going to steal it from them?”

Fortunato Guanlao, Mojadera’s brother, also lost the $1,000 he had sent to the Philippines for his two-week trip. “It’s a loss but it’s not a big loss,” he said. “Any money that can be salvaged, I’m more than willing to take it but I feel bad for those who sent a bigger amount.”

A Cautionary Tale

Lucas has since hired a paralegal to represent her parents. Meanwhile, she’s working with the group in search of a lawyer who’d be willing to represent them either pro bono or at a fraction of their regular fees.

“I want these people to be accountable for what they’re doing,” she said. “It irks me because they’ve been in business for so long and yet, they didn’t protect the most vulnerable people in the community [by getting insurance]… their business thrived because of the people in their community.”

Mojadera recalled frequently chatting with Tess Mallari after doing her groceries at the nearby T&T Supermarket. But despite a good rapport with their clients, Mojadera said she had heard complaints regarding transfers that were delayed by up to one month. “I don’t know why I didn’t listen to other people’s complaints,” said Mojadera. “I still trusted them.”

Remittances through Mabini Express would take weeks compared to other companies that processed transfers within 24 hours, according to Guanlao. “The time it takes to send money through them is no earlier than a week – it was always over a week, two weeks or three weeks,” he said. However, since Mabini Express had the best exchange rate at the time, he thought nothing of the delay since the money wasn’t urgent. Still, he added that he found it strange that it took the company two days to issue his receipt, which was sent from Tess Mallari’s personal email rather than the company email.

Bronola stated that she has already urged friends to carefully read disclaimers in receipts, to ask if a company is insured, and to think twice before entrusting their money to smaller remittance companies. Or, better yet, she advised, “go to Western Union or a bank even if the charge is higher and the value is a bit smaller, at least it’s guaranteed.”

“You respect someone so much and this is what they’re going to do to you?” asked Bronola. “Nakaka sama ng loob. Not that they’re saints but I respected them… but then I realized they don’t deserve it.”

Searching for Answers

In an email to The Philippine Reporter, Detective Constable Dixon stated, “We have received several complaints with regards to Mabini Express. We are currently interviewing with the complainants. The investigation is in its preliminary stages and we have yet to determine if there is any criminality.

“As you can appreciate these investigations take time and we are working diligently to address the complainants’ concerns.”

Noel D. Gerry, the lawyer representing the Mallaris, sent the following statement:

“Due to unforeseen circumstances and the actions of third parties beyond its control, Mabini Express regrets that some customer remittance deposits did not make it to the intended recipients. Mabini Express has always operated with good intentions and in accordance with the law. Unfortunately, it has found itself in an untenable financial position and third party creditors were able to divert funds intended for customer remittances for their own purposes and without the consent of Mabini Express.

“Mabini Express deeply regrets any loss that may have been suffered by its customers and is working with its legal and accounting professionals to attempt to remedy the situation.”

Yet, people are left with more questions than answers. “What does it mean for third party rerouting your funds?” asked Lucas. “If I have a bank account, how can a third party just gain access to my account? On January 6, when my parents gave them $10,000 cash, that money should have been deposited into the Mabini Express bank account.”

“The least they can do is face us and say, ‘Yes, this was something that happened, we are still trying to figure it out.’ But, no, they’re doing it through their lawyer out of fear for their lives,” she said. “If you speak to the victims, they’re very forgiving, very religious and very reasonable people. They’re not violent, trust me – they befriended the Mallaris.”

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Anyone who has been affected by Mabini Express Money Remittance to the Philippines can contact the York Regional Police Fraud Intake Line at (905) 881-1221 ext. 6627 or through the online reporting system at www.yrp.ca

Here are the following steps for completing an online report:

1. Select from the top of the screen – Report a crime

2. Select – File a report now

3. Select – I am ready to report the theft/fraud

4. Select – Identity theft/fraud

5. Select – Start report

6. Select – Original

7. Select – Continue

8. Fill in required boxes

9. Continue