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Transparency and inclusiveness

09 July 2018

For the first time in so many years, the Filipino community was not called to a meeting this year to discuss preparations for the annual Philippine Independence Day celebration.

As a result, only one Filcom organization took the lion’s share in co-organizing with the Consulate what had been bruited as a month-long celebration of the community’s biggest event of the year. And to be blunt about it, the festivities bombed.

For as long as I can remember, the annual celebration, which used to bring together as many Filcom organizations as could take part in the programme, always attracted a huge crowd.

This was true even when heavy rains threatened to ruin the whole-day merriment as what happened in 2010 when performers had to trudge through mud in Victoria Park, or earlier, when a 7-foot high backdrop collapsed onto a mercifully still empty stage in Chater Garden.

Fifteen years ago when I co-organized the event twice in one year as chair of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong, Chater was chock-full of people you could hardly see beyond the tops of their heads.

The first of these two was even held in the wake of SARS, when Hong Kong became a virtual ghost town. People, mostly Pinoys, turned out by the thousands even when there was no celebrity guest, and the entertainment was provided by various Filcom organizations which showcased the best they could offer from their region. The finale was a rousing dance number led by then Consul General Victoria Bataclan and several Filcom leaders she called on stage.

The same atmosphere of camaraderie and nationalistic fervor prevailed in so many other such celebrations up until last year.

So what could have gone wrong?

Leaders we have spoken with lamented the failure by the Consulate to skip the time-honored tradition of calling for a meeting to lay down the plans for the celebration, and open the participation to all Filcom organizations.

The PAHK, which for decades was the lead organizer for the Independence Day celebrations, was also jostled out of the picture when Air Asia was let in as the biggest sponsor of the main Chater event. That meant that PAHK and its traditional partner Philippine Airlines, had to take up the first Sunday slot because of the exclusivity provision in their sponsorship contract.

That also meant that Global Alliance, a relatively young organization which gained fame in the hit movie Sunday Beauty Queen because of its focus on organizing beauty contests, was left to coordinate preparations for all four Sundays of the celebration with the Consulate.

With related events stretched to four Sundays, and two of the Chater shows dominated by time-consuming beauty contests, it was no wonder many people chose to stay away. Add to that the fact that all but two or three Filcom groups were shut out of the celebrations and you get to see the full picture of why it was no longer the fun occasion it used to be.

There is also the touchy question of finances. The reason the PAHK had always led the celebration was as much tradition as it was transparency. As a licensed limited company the association is subjected to a strict audit, and is bound to issue a financial report to members during the annual general meeting.

In addition, its donations to charitable causes are open to scrutiny by everyone, and its choice of beneficiaries often goes through a vetting by the entire board. Its aims and objectives, including raising funds for charity, are also clearly set out in its Articles of Incorporation.

In comparison, the Consulate as a government entity, is prohibited by law from accepting private donations. When it works with organizations on projects that require the raising of funds it should also be wary lest it be seen as going around the prohibition that is rooted on a possible conflict of interest.

Associations formed by foreign domestic workers should, given the visa restrictions on the listed office bearers, also be careful about accepting money from big corporate sponsors as this could be equated with doing illegal work. This apart, there is also the question of how the money they received on behalf of the community should be accounted for.

Going against established practices is not bad in itself as it could lead to innovation, greater efficiency and new knowledge. But those who reinvent the wheel should be careful not to wreck a system that works simply because of a desire for change; or worse, create a problem when there was none.

There is strength in numbers, wisdom in consultation, and value in honoring traditions.

There is no reason to rock the boat just to make a difference.

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