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USA: A matter of character

By Dionesio C. Grava
First Posted in  pinoywatchdog.com

In one of her responses regarding allegations of wrongdoings, Darna Umayam made much of the fact that PinoyWatchdog used to have good words for her. In an email blast, for example, she said: “Mr.Al aquino wrote once that I was a pillar in the community and Mr Larry Pelayo wrote ‘Comes now Darna, a different breed who works and help people…’”

In another Ms. Umayam said: “In closing I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the help and support you have extended to the 114th Philippine Independence Day and also to the 100 Outstanding Filipino Americans in the USA. Your presence and support is highly appreciated. Thanks.” That was addressed to this writer.

It is my conviction as a Christian to presume good faith on fellowmen. Having heard of her supposed selfless services for charitable causes, I saw no reason not to give her that presumption. Then there was that kilometric biography she disseminated when she pursued an elective post in the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles (FACLA), which unfortunately she lost. I thought then that she’s one amazing Filipina-American worth emulating. There’s no reason to believe anyone of her stature would purposely lie on a personal sheet no one requires of her in the first place.

In some of her other messages Ms. Umayam wrote that her children are used to reading good things about her in the newspapers. As Filipinos, “Let us not put each other down, but instead let’s help each other.” Ms. Umayam contradicted herself when she later alleged that PinoyWatchdog had always been against her. 

As journalists, it is our duty at PinoyWatchdog to diligently seek out subjects of news stories. It is what journalism is about. On her part as a public personality, it is her duty to be transparent and provide ready access to official documents so that the people may know. Regarding her fundraising, the IRS requires that documents be widely available for public inspection. Unfortunately she had not been forthcoming in our discussions regarding the ‘Outstanding’ event as well as of another fundraising in 2009.  She might have considered them cute but her responses to legitimate questions were pockmarked with ambiguity, contradictions, untruthfulness and other fallacies. Presumption of good faith withdrawn. 

I wrote her initially that I am a community reporter who had to solicit her side of the developing controversy about the 100 Outstanding Filipino Americans in the USA, of which she was the project director, spokesperson and one-woman everything. “Like you,” I said, “I have a role to perform. Unlike you, I have no other option in this assignment if I have to remain loyal to my calling.”

The second part was a dig on her claim of privacy. There’s no law forcing anyone to render voluntary fundraising service to the community. She could have opted out from our inquiries anytime by reverting to being an ordinary person. I reminded her then: “Regarding your claim of privacy, I believe your event 100 Outstanding Filipino Americans in the USA is a matter of public interest/concern. Additionally, ‘A person may, by his own activities or by the force of circumstances, become a public personage and thereby relinquish a part of his right of privacy to the extent that the public has a legitimate interest in his activities. (Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., supra, 418 U.S. 323, 351 [41 L.Ed.2d 789, 812].)”‘

The following is from an old Supreme Court dictum: “the interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and unjust accusation; the wound can be assuaged by the balm of clear conscience. A public officer should not be too thinned-skinned with reference to his official acts. Only thus the intelligence and dignity of the individual be exalted.’ 

Ms. Umayam and her awards 

I recalled being invited to her house the first time — per IRS, the house being the declared site of her non-profit organization is a public place — in connection with another story I was following up which reportedly was settled out of court. The first thing she did was show me her trophy room, the wall of which was covered with plaques. Indeed it was impressive. However, given the above-cited uncertainties in her statements as well as her refusal to clarify columnist Bander’s finding that the UST Cum Laude claim in her bio is allegedly not supported with fact, I had come to doubt whether all those awards were real. 

Integrity, moral uprightness, character. Without them nothing matters, according to one saying. Certainly there are other traits essential for one to achieve success such as belief in oneself, perseverance, determination and intelligence. But man has also a soul that has a conscience. Success and titles gained through deceptive means are things that your conscience would rather do without. As the scriptures say, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and loses his own soul?”

I beg indulgence for sounding sanctimonious if only to vent regarding some critical postings in a Facebook forum about this ‘Outstanding’ thing. That includes someone masquerading as Diego Silang who reportedly posted my photo with the caption “Scammer”. Scammer? Where and when did this supposed scam happened? Who are the supposed victims? That’s what’s wrong with some people: they are ‘courageous’ denouncing someone or something but only behind the cloak of anonymity.

More recently Ms. Umayam sent the following: “My husband and I are not afraid of you. Who do you think you are, what kind of life are you leading. You use your pen for something really bad and negative. That is the work of a person with manic depression psychosis. I researched on this.”

As I said, it is my obligation as a journalist to help ferret out the truth of a reported money-generating scheme that has been going on for several years. We have to persist on this issue because, according to Thomas Paine, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

Here is one lady who single-handedly started a so-called national search for outstanding FilAms with zero funds, no public announcement or press releases, no committee of jurors and because the organization she was affiliated with — the Philippine Press Photographers-USA — has no 501 c(3) status, she allegedly hijacked the Philippine Children’s Charities, Inc. to do the fundraising without the authority of its owners. She said awardees were not required to pay but we got hold of documents showing that they had to cough up at least $1,100 each. And a FilAm she used to work with in a previous organization alleged that there were also irregularities there.

In a short time more than 80 “Distinguished Honorees” were gathered and presented to the public in the OFAUSA event last March. She claimed that “There were 285 recommendations to this project however, we chose 100 best of the best.” Supposedly the 100 best of the best in the USA but lo and behold! Most of them were from the Los Angeles area and nearby vicinities. More troubling, many were personal friends of the organizer and reportedly included even two of Ms. Umayam’s teenage children. What a character?

Ms. Umayam said that the awardees deserve to be called outstanding because they will be donating to a charitable cause. Then why not call them Distinguished Donors or whatever title appropriate with that situation? The fictitious Diego Silang (some suspected he could be Adrian Lecaros, one of the awardees) justified the name because in the Philippines, he said, beauty competitions are given nice-sounding irrelevant titles even if in truth they are just money schemes. Going by that assertion, was the 100 Best of the Best Outstanding Filipino Americans in the USA no different from Filipina beauties vying titles for a price?

As already mentioned in a previous article, ABS-CBN International’s Bantay Bata was reported saying that Ms. Umayam committed to donate $7,000 only out of the expected huge proceeds. In good sense ABS-CBN later turned down the offered, if insulting, amount of donation. A substitute charity whose local head, Tony Olaes, was among the ‘awardees’ reportedly accepted the donation and even promised a counterpart amount from his own pocket to be donated to Bantay Bata. Until now organizers refused to provide proof of delivery of the publicized donation. ABS-CBN reportedly has not received the supposed counterpart money for Bantay Bata. Additionally organizers have not released the names of awardees to the public supposedly for their own protection. Protection from what?

PinoyWatchDog’s Expose’

  1. USA: ‘Outstanding’ awards provides a legacy of unbelievable gall
  2. ABS-CBN signals a return to honesty, integrity and respectability in fund-raisings
  3. Darna Umayam bares some Fil-Am Awards rules
  4. Documents show Umayam took money from 2009 Independence Day earnings 
  5. Darna Umayam, do not invoke the name of God to make you look good and PinoyWatchDog bad
  6. The show will go on – Darna Umayam
  7. USA: FIL-AM AWARDS EXPOSE’
  8. UST cannot certify Darna Umayam graduated Cum Laude
  9. ABS-CBN Foundation International President Robbie Fabian Says $7500 is All Umayam Required to Pay
  10. USA: ABS CBN Says Goodbye to Umayam’s 100 Outstanding Fil-Ams Awards