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USA: FIL-AM AWARDS EXPOSE

First posted in  pinoywatchdog.com

PinoyWatchDog.com digs deeper into a pervasive, scandal-prone practice as a means to open a discussion, and to professionalize and make transparent the financial aspects of Fil-Am awards events and other Fil-Am fundraising activities.

By Dionesio C. Grava, Joel Bander, and the PWD Investigative Team
Photos by Dionesio C. Grava

First of a series

LOS ANGELES – PinoyWatchDog.com has began a series of  investigative reports detailing what it calls the ‘pay to play’ culture of Filipino American community awards events, and how it impacts on the ethics and perception of Filipinos.

Darna B. Umayam, a reputed multi-awarded community leader in Southern California, has been running an active business for years, producing and promoting these events. She told PinoyWatchDog.com that she feels harassed by persistent e-mail inquiries sent to her by our reporters regarding her phantom criteria for selection of the recipients of her 100 Outstanding Filipino Americans of USA (OFA-USA) awards project. The presentation of awards is scheduled for July 28, 2012 at the Universal Hilton.

OFA-USA is a joint project of Philippine Press Photographers USA, Inc. (PPP-USA, Inc.) — headed by Jimmy Hernandez, Sid Guerrero and Bobby Saddul, chairman, president and vice-president, respectively –  and Ms.  Umayam’s Philippine Children’s Charities, Inc. (PCCI). Ms. Umayam is project director of OFA-USA, and uses a postal address of 5221 Eagle Rock Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90041, her residence.

The organization had a presentation of about 85 honorees on March 25, 2012 at the Universal Hilton Hotel. Final presentation of awards will be during a Black Tie Awards Night on July 28, 2012, reportedly at the same Sierra Ballroom of the Universal Hilton Hotel. Since that time numerous concerns have been raised regarding this awards event to and within the editorial board of PinoyWatchDog.com.

It was then followed by a cascading series of events triggered by Ms. Umayam’s cordial protest to Joel Bander at the Philippine Consulate on June 12, 2012, about a comment tangentially related to this event, discussed in the companion article on page 14.  Please also read a related story at this link: http://www.pinoywatchdog.com/2012/06/07/adrian-lecaros-46th-assembly-district-race/.

And if this report seems peppered with e-mail quotes of Ms. Umayam, it is because of PinoyWatchDog.com’s policy of providing its readers complete facts and investigation, with all parties having an opportunity to air their side.

Ms. Umayam started the exchange of e-mails by telling PinoyWatchDog.com on June 13, 2012, that, “I have very good relationships with [PWD Executive Editor] Tito Al Aquino, [PWD Ombudsman] Tito Larry Pelayo, [PWD Chief of Reporters] Diony Grava and even [PWD contributing writer] Jo Arciaga, (sic)  and that  there is no bad blood in all of us against each other.”

However, by June 21, 2012, Ms. Umayam, when contacted by Mr. Grava of PWD, said that, “it seems like a harassment  already” as he followed up Mr. Bander’s e-mail questions that Umayam was refusing to answer, along with conflicting claims and facts.

PinoyWatchDog.com’s investigation had obtained the ‘Rules and Regulations’ of this event from a proposed honoree who felt offended by its terms. It states: “As an Ambassador of Goodwill of this project  each  awardee will help solicit Line Ad Sponsors at $ 25.00 and above for a total equivalent of $ 1,000.00. Each awardee who will donate a onetime amount of $ 500.00/ above will be given a full page ad in the book.

PWD asks Umayam to identify honorees

Mr. Grava went to Ms. Umayam’s residence and asked her to identify the honorees, and requested for an explanation of the awards process. He was told that because of a ‘hold harmless’ agreement she was not permitted to disclose who the awardees are until the night of the show, when a full press release would be transmitted (to media outlets). Umayam again stated this in an e-mail that “I can’t give out names for now because that is what is agreed by the committee and for confidentiality because some of the awardees does (sic) not want any publicity at all. We signed with them a Hold Harmless Agreement.”

However, PinoyWatchDog.com has obtained this Hold Harmless Agreement, and it only concerns the use of honorees’images, nothing about the release of their names. Ms. Umayam had promised both writers of this article a list of honorees. PinoyWatchDog.com finds this evolving secrecy about the intended honorees to be quite odd, as 85 of them were displayed in three picture taking sessions on March 25, 2012 at the Universal Hilton.

Some Umayam friends are also honorees

PinoyWatchDog.com discovered that 85 of the 100 awardees were from the Los Angeles area. Moreover, an examination of the list of honorees presented seems heavily weighted towards Umayam’s closest friends and business associates. PWD noted that the list did not include a statistically balanced number of honorees from her own Kalayaan Organizing Committee and the other Kalayaan Organizing Committee, some of whose officers her partner and friend Trini Follente had sued for defamation last year.

Umayam wrote PWD on June 13, 2012, that “there were 285 recommendations to this project however, we chose 100 best of the best.” Another e-mail from Umayam stated: “NOT 85 of the honorees came from Los Angeles. Out of the 100 honorees ONLY 22 came from Los Angeles.

“Honorees were picked from all over Southern and Northern California and out of state per recommendations from other good people. It’s not true that I only get honorees who are my friends. …. Out of the 100 honorees only (8) of my real close friends were selected because they really deserved to be one. They have served the community for more than 10 years,” Umayam said.

However, in a February 2012 communication to a prospective honoree, Ms. Umayam bared that OFA-USA “had 82 already who signed up as awardees. I had declined 12 recommendations already. The 82 are already official honorees (underlining by PWD). I plan to have ONLY 100 from all over USA. I have awardees coming from Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Texas, etc.”

As of press time, PWD has not received names of out-of-state honorees from Chicago, New York and other states, like Arizona, New Mexico, New Jersey and other cities and states where there are large concentrations of Fil-Ams.

 

7 Photographers are included?

A review of the photographs and emails about the event reveals, in PinoyWatchDog.com’s view, seven photographers are among the honorees. An eyeball examination of the photographs of the March event with 85 awardees also reveals that almost everyone is from the Los Angeles area.

A June 20, 2012 e-mail from Umayam to Bander states: “I have no 7 photographers awardees.  All the awardees are qualified.”

Diony Grava: Who are the 38 members of PICCSC you said were selected as awardees?

Darna Umayam: Not 38 members of PICCSC were awarded. It was about 10 only.

Darna Umayam : “Out of 38 members of PICCSC, only very few were selected awardees because they deserved to be one.”

One honoree in the entertainment industry told PWD he/she thought it odd that of an entire country of Filipinos that even more than one photographer would be so awarded as 100 Outstanding Filipino Americans in the US. Indeed, such noteworthy Filipinos as California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, L.A. Superior Court Judge Mel Recana, American Idol Runner-up and singing sensation Jessica Sanchez, stalwart entrepreneur Loida Nicolas-Lewis, or either of the Oriels, publishers of the Asian Journal, were not included.

“Shouldn’t this list be called ‘the Most Outstanding Friends of Darna willing to raise $1000 to receive an award?’ one observer said. “Why can’t they just acknowledge that someone raised $1000 for charity, which seems good, without making people believe someone is among the most outstanding 100 of a community of millions of people?”

 

Following is an e-mail exchange between Mr. Grava and  Ms.Umayam

DG: “Is/Was there a committee constituted to vet nominees to the said 100 Outstanding Filipino Americans in the USA? If affirmative, may I know their names and pertinent information about them?”

DU: “awardees were recommended. They have to submit their write up and resume. We call them and set an interview. We don’t do it over the phone. We have to meet them in person because we don’t know some of the awardees. Some of the Press people and of course myself as Project Director did the selection process.”

However, Ms. Maria Amor, businesswoman and beauty queen, told PinoyWatchDog.com she was simply called by Umayam, and asked to be among the awardees. Amor agreed, and had no problem when told about the $1000. “I have no problem about it,” she said. “I know this goes on, and it’s for a good cause.”

An attorney honoree, who asked not to be named, stated he/she was called and asked to be an honoree, but no mention of $1000 was made. However, he/she was asked for contribution, and said would probably buy an ad for the program. “They need a few awardees that are not in the inner circle to make it appear legitimate,” one observer told PWD. That attorney honoree said he/she was never sent any contracts or hold harmless agreements.

Neither of these honorees was required to submit any write-ups, resumes, etc. They were just called and asked.

 

Where do the funds go?

PinoyWatchDog.com has asked Umayam for information about her charity, Philippine Children’s Charities, Inc. , as there is an ongoing concern in Fil-Am  fundraising events, and this where funds go and how much are actually earmarked and delivered to the named beneficiaries. Umayam stated: “it is a legal fundraising project highly endorsed by ABS-CBN Foundation and Bantay Bata 163 Executive Director Tina Monzon-Palma. Fiscal agent is official 501 (C 3) stature (sic) with IRS.”

Umayam did provide the charities such as Employer Identification Number (EIN) so her contentions could be confirmed with Exempt Organizations Select Check on the IRS homepage, too close to deadline but most certainly demonstrating good faith. A search of the California Secretary of State’s business search homepage revealed that Philippine Children’s Charities is an active corporation with Umayam as agent for service of process.

 

PWD asked Tina Monson-Palma

PinoyWatchDog.com has also sent numerous e-mails and made calls to ABS-CBN Foundation and Bantay Bata163 Executive Director Tina Monzon-Palma, inquiring whether it is true that she highly endorsed the OFA-USA award project. She has refused comment.

That same communication to Ms. Monson-Palma stated that “Ms. Umayam is refusing to provide an accounting of the funds collected, is representing that a ‘voluntary’ donation is coming from honorees, and that she is refusing to provide the list of the awardees, or the criteria for the selection of the awardees.”

June 14, 2012 Bander e-mail to Umayam: “I would also be interested in the accounting that is public as it deals with this project, and how much actually ends up with the beneficiaries. Please let me know how to obtain it.

June 15, 2012 e-mail reply from Umayam:“I am so sorry I am really pressed for time in preparations for the big event of the Outstanding Filipino Americans in the USA.”

As the event takes place on July 28, 2012, the reader can determine how to weigh this response and judge if this first in a series of PWD investigative reports has merits. (Managing Editor) 

 

Updates