The Philippine Times was invited to an interview with four members of the Philippine Fiesta of Victoria Inc. (PFVI) committee, namely Chairperson Mario Magbiray, 1st Vice President Ross Manuel, 2nd Vice President Manny Asuncion, and Treasurer Nilo Lim. Also in attendance was Nilo’s partner, former treasurer of the Fiesta, Resy Lim.
The aim of the interview was to bridge a closer gap between the community members who are demanding answers from the PFVI committee and the PFVI.
‘No’ to public forum
The PFVI committee has stated that they do not believe that meeting Roy Carbungco and his supporters for a public debate is an appropriate way to respond to queries. The committee has stated that the members have been advised to structure their responses through means that is non confrontational. PFVI welcomes the media as a forum to share its side to address general concerns that have been echoed on social media. PFVI views the other party as forming generalisations without foundations, and it is not respected due to the comments made which are defamatory.
PFVI reiterated that non-members are encouraged to become members if they would like to take an interest to support the Fiesta, who would also, therefore, be entitled question the PFVI plans and decisions. PFVI stated that members’ ideas can be put forward and discussed by the committee. At the last AGM, there were 78 people that were active members of PFVI.
When asked about why the community centre has yet to be built, the PFVI committee responded that the opposing group (Roy’s Crusade) does not understand the reasons behind the delay in the planned community centre. Ross Manuel stated “since 2010 or 2011, we had already planned to build a community centre through the blessings of the members. At that time, there was a case that the supreme court ordered, the Fiesta could not engage in activities such as entering into contract or agreement until the case had been resolved.”
“When we planned to build, as the old building was dilapidated, and unsafe to use because of the presence of asbestos. We enquired with the Hobsons Bay Council what requirements need to comply with the building of the Community,” said Manuel.
The delays of the past four years
In 2016, the PFVI revived an application to build a community centre at the existing Laverton block of land. Manuel, who was Chairperson at the time, stated in the interview that the Council accepted the application, however, there was a notice from Hobsons Bay Council regarding the need to adhere with Aboriginal Heritage Regulation 2007. Once completed, the PFVI granted clearance in April 2018 to proceed with the application of the Community centre. This study of land called ‘Surface Conformation Assessment’ was prepared by Jannand Place Management in December 2016, which was presented to PFVI members at the AGM in 2017.
The PFVI has since progressed the application and is currently in the process of engaging the engineering requirements relating to urban area development and other legalities. A tender to build is currently a work in progress. PFVI reiterated that the only hurdle preventing them from proceeding with the groundbreaking and subsequent building of the centre is the lack of funds needed for the project.
The PFVI is selling a portion of the original land, purchased by the Philippine Fiesta of Victoria Incorporated in the mid 90s. This land, known as Lot 2, has had some interest, with a buyer offering 2.5 million earlier in the year. The group needed to adjust the plans in the past 12 months, to reduce the budget required for the completion of the centre. This includes removal of the proposed indoor facilities such as basketball court. At this time the current market is not favourable to the PFVI building requirements.
Why the sale of the middle lot (lot 1)
The Philippine Times questioned the group as to the reason for selling the middle lot, known as Lot 1. Lot 1 was sold for 1.239 million in 2015, for the purpose of development and the subdivision of the property to have individual titles. (Editors Note: PFVI will provide more information in the coming weeks.)
Why the current sale of the side lot (lot 2)?
Lot 2 has been on the market since late 2018. Ross stated that this was presented in the 2018 AGM to cater to the financial amount required to start the building of the community centre. An amount of just over $3.2 million is needed to complete of the community centre.
Offers from prospective buyers/developers have not been higher than 2.8 million – this was due to the high residential zoning applied by the Council, and the current market conditions.
Lack of transparency?
In regards to the allegations of a lack of transparency coming from the Fiesta, Magbiray responded that members are fully aware and informed of decisions that were made. Mario reiterated that at the AGM, members are provided with a comprehensive presentation and are given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of their meeting. Mario stated that this includes a rundown on the financial statement of the previous year. Asuncion noted that at the last AGM, there was a strict time for them to end the meeting, which may have led to some questions not being asked. Manuel added that financial reports are available at each AGM for members to look at.
Asuncion also said that he ensures that the financial statement is included in the annual Fiesta Souvenir program.
Lim also noted that the financial reports have in the past been made available for public viewing through their website.
The Philippine Times asked how absent members are able to obtain information that they have missed at the AGM. PFVI stated that these members are able to forward their questions directly to the secretary in writing.
Addressing Fiesta member’s concerns
The Philippine Times asked the PFVI why members have had their questions ignored in the past, as well as in recent times. PFVI stated that it does not entertain text messages, phone calls, or even questions in person, as these are not standard protocol according to the Fiesta constitution.
Fiesta members are informed that they are able to put their questions in writing (either physical letter or email) to the Secretary, currently Edith Feliciano, who will convene a meeting to the 16 members of the committee to discuss the matter accordingly.
Why the losses?
1. In 2009, the two-day Fiesta could not be held at the Laverton property, due Council’s regulations that the 2 Day Fiesta was creating traffic congestion in the community as well as building maintenance issues such as asbestos, blocked toilets, and leaking roofs.
2. The annual event has to be held in different venues, ie. Melbourne Showgrounds with higher costs involved
3. Unfavourable weather conditions
4. The joint venture of the PFVI and Trade Expo didn’t go as planned in terms of revenue forecast.
5. The court case of 2015 impacted the operations of PFVI.
6. Venue hire costs, Council rates, insurance, utilities, securities and maintenance and other associated costs.
7. Other Filipino Festivals are being held close to the date of PFVI event
Editor’s Note: After the interview with PFVI, Manuel et al clarified in an email sent to The Philippine Times that PFVI does not admit the yearly losses as reported by the group led by Roy Carbungco. PFVI reported in their email that they made a surplus of $5491.58 and $1,455.74 in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Not giving up Laverton
Asuncion stated that PFVI wants to adhere to the management objectives and goals as stated in the Millennium book which was published in their Year 2000.
“The dream is to build a community centre at Laverton,” says Manuel.
The Philippine Times quizzed PFVI regarding how a Fiesta can still be held at the Laverton location, despite the Council’s rejection of a permit in the past and complaints by the local community around noise and traffic.
PFVI stated that it would still be able to hold a smaller ‘barrio’ Fiesta, where the large parking area could be used for stalls, keeping noise within the building. The event capacity would be set at around 1,000 people, with a capacity of 400 people within the building. When asked about the issue of traffic and parking, Manuel stated that parking would be at the Laverton station, and guests would have to walk from there to the property on Armstrong Street.
The Philippine Times calculated the distance from the station to Armstrong street to be 350m or a four-minute walk.
Manuel showed The Philippine Times the architects’ plan and will submit for publication in our January edition.
PFVI stated that it was not interested in purchasing a new unserviced vacant lot in Rockbank PFVI believes that such a decision would be unfeasible, as it would take at least 10 to 15 years before the development of a centre. The idea for another location was not accepted.
The Legal fees of 2014 & 2015
PFVI stated that the fees that are reflected in their financial reports from 2014 and 2015 as a result of the court case where Concerned Members sued the Fiesta. PFVI explained that all management committee officers are indemnified, as stated in the constitution.
The membership is open to community members who are required to be interviewed for legitimacy reasons. The fee for membership is $20. As an in-house rule which was implemented in 2009, the interview serves as a way of filtering those with a genuine interest of supporting the Fiesta, as well as avoiding ‘bogus’ applications for memberships. PFVI stated that a bogus application would occur prior to 2009, where proxies were accepted, as well as names being put down without the individuals’ knowledge.
As part of the membership committee, Asuncion shared the questions that are asked to those interested to become a member: how do you know about the PFVI?; What do you think about the Fiesta?; What can you contribute to PFVI?
Asuncion also highlighted that members should not be conducting a campaign against the Fiesta should they wish to become a member. Asuncion says that individuals who do not follow protocol when applying for membership are also not accepted as a member. The interviewees also stated that based on the new model rules, a reason does not need to be given if an individual is rejected. Applications for membership are accepted as soon as practicable when two witnesses from the PFVI committee are available to meet with Asuncion.
Membership can be renewed by signing the necessary paperwork. If members do not renew within six months of expiry of their membership, they would be considered as resigned as per PFVI constitution.
Mario has expressed that his term as Chairperson of the PFVI will end in 2020. There are 16 committee directors, as well as 8 elected executive officers, as elected by the directors.
The Philippine Times asked about giving an opportunity to others, especially people who are interested to take over. In response, PFVI stated that members would need to follow the constitution. Members can be elected as officers of the management committee provided they are nominated by two other members, and they have been a member for at least one year.
PFVI stated that it usually receives several nominations for the same people so the committee encourages its members to invite others to join. PFVI has just celebrated its 37th Anniversary Fiesta event, ‘Malasakit’. (See page 22 of The Philippine Times December 2019 edition for details.)