“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
Nellie Vandt claims a family has been targeting Filipino families in the Lower Mainland for years and she now is part of a group banding together to get the word out, in the hopes of preventing further victims. September 13, 2013. PHOTOGRAPH BY: JENELLE SCHNEIDER, PROVINCE
By Alex P. Vidal
A conflict between a family and several complainants involving money transactions in the Filipino community in British Columbia, was recently featured in Canada’s leading daily.
The Province, one of Canada’s biggest and widely circulated newspapers, featured on its October 29, 2013 issue the spat between the Juatco family and some fellow Filipino immigrants.
“We read the story in the internet and it bothered us a lot because we also belong in a Filipino community here in Australia,” commented Sydney-based Felicidad Amurillo, 61. “We never heard this kind of embarrassing story before involving Filipinos abroad.”
“This story is alarming,” enthused Aurelio Pantaleon of San Cataldo, Sicily in Italy. “We are supposed to unite if we live in a foreign land. People around the globe should hear only stories about our good qualities and how beautiful is the Philippines, not how and why we are tearing each other apart. It’s nauseating to learn about this, you know!”
In an article written by Dan Fumano entitled “Dispute divides B.C.’s Filipino community”, the feud was described as “escalating” and “is drawing battle lines between two sides.”
Here’s what happened according to Fumano’s story: “On one side, a prominent media family say they are the victims of an unfair campaign and ‘personal vendettas’ against them.
“On the other, a group of community members have started a website to spread the word about their unfortunate experiences and business dealings with the family.
“Roque and Erlinda Juatco have been prominent in B.C.’s Filipino community for decades. They have been in the newspaper publishing business since at least 1991, and currently own and operate the Philippine Asian Chronicle. The younger generation of the family produces a talk show called Pinoy Buzz on Shaw’s Multicultural Channel. They are also involved with Pinoy Fiesta Vancouver, billed as the ‘Biggest Filipino Cultural Event in Canada.’
“Recently, Nellie Vandt, an event producer from Delta, started a website to share her story about doing business with the Juatcos. During the past two months, other people contacted her and added their own stories about the family to the website.
“The Province has interviewed 10 people who have gone on the record to say they lost money through their business and personal dealings with the Juatco family during the past 20 years, and they allege they know of dozens of others with similar stories. Their stories vary, but most say they lost money through ‘handshake deals’ that fell through, or loans and debts that went unpaid. They have shared with The Province copies of bounced cheques, court documents and email conversations with the Juatcos.
“The Juatcos said they have done nothing wrong.
“‘This is a campaign to take us out … I can’t understand it,’ said Erlinda Juatco. ‘I know that I have tried so hard and I have done so much for my community.’
“Members of the group who spoke with The Province include Maevn Hauser, a more recent immigrant from the Philippines who said he is haunted by ‘nightmares’ from his dealings with the family; Concepcion “Ching” Colobong, a community leader and vice president of the Multicultural Helping House Society; Ellen Sarmiento, a concert promoter now based in Alberta who shared copies of contracts with the Juatcos; and Vandt herself, who started the blog in the first place.
“Some members of the group said they lost tens of thousands of dollars to the family, and their stories range from the 1990s to as recently as this year.
“A common theme among their allegations is they say the Juatcos used their position of prominence and influence in the community to exert control over others and gain their trust. The Filipino community is tight-knit, generous, and often religious, the alleged victims said. They felt the Juatcos used all of these to their advantage.
“The conflict has already garnered attention in B.C.‘s ethnic media, with stories about Vandt’s blog and allegations appearing in at least two local Filipino newspapers.
“Now, in response to the growing attention and increased chatter within the community, the Juatcos have said they are planning to take legal action against the woman they say is behind a campaign to try and discredit them.
“Erlinda Juatco told The Province she contacted a lawyer last week to discuss filing a suit for libel and slander. Other members of the family also said that if they need to, they will take legal action against those making allegations on the blog.
“Several of the group behind the website said they went to police with complaints against the Juatcos, but were told that their cases would be better served as civil cases as opposed to criminal fraud charges. Some people told The Province they felt discouraged from ever pursuing legal action to get their money back, and held little hope of success in those channels.
“Juatco said the people speaking out against them are motivated by personal reasons, and the family does not owe money to the group.
“‘Now they are victims? I’m so surprised,’ Erlinda said. ‘I’m not victimizing anybody.’
“There are no pending criminal charges against any of the Juatco family.
“Court records show more than 20 civil cases involving father Roque Juatco Sr., mother Erlinda Juatco and son Roque Juatco Jr., ranging from 1991 to last year.
“Among the civil cases are those filed by Connie Mananquil, a Burnaby accountant. In 1998, Mananquil bought about one quarter of the shares of the Juatcos’ newspaper, then called The Philippine Chronicle. Shortly after, Mananquil accused the Juatcos of unfair business practices, took them to court, and won. According to a 2001 court decision, the Juatcos ‘diverted funds from the company in a manner which was clearly improper.’
“‘The manner in which the respondents Juatco intermingled and diverted funds of the Company was oppressive and prejudicial to the rights of Ms. Mananquil and … she is entitled to a remedy,’ wrote Justice Bryan Ralph in his decision, ordering the Juatcos to pay $15,000 to Mananquil.
“That $15,000 was never paid, Mananquil said when contacted by The Province this week. The year after that court decision, Mananquil filed further court documents applying to seize control of the Juatcos’ assets, namely, the newspaper.
“According to court records, the Juatcos owed more than $25,000 to Mananquil, but ‘The defendants decided to ignore it.’
“‘I would like to get paid, I have no other choice but to hire a bailiff to seize the assets of the defendants. The only assets the bailiff can seize is the shares of stock of the Philippine Chronicle Newspaper,’ Mananquil wrote in the court documents.
“Mananquil was awarded control of the The Philippine Chronicle by court order in 2002. In response, the Juatcos started another newspaper, with a slightly different name: The Philippine Asian Chronicle. This is the paper the Juatcos still run today.
“Erlinda Juatco said last week she thought the matter with Mananquil was settled.
“Mananquil said that while she is still owed money, she doesn’t expect to ever see it, and has accepted that.
“‘We had to cut our losses,’ Mananquil said. ‘If I chase them, the more I lose money.’
“Meanwhile, new stories come into Vandt’s blog as more people speak up, and the Juatcos maintain that they are the ones who are, in fact, the victims.
“Ellen Sarmiento said she lost more than $10,000 in her dealings with the Juatcos. Sarmiento showed The Province a copy of a bounced cheque from the Juatcos’ family business dated 2010.
“The Juatcos dispute Sarmiento’s version of events, and said that Sarmiento in fact owes them money.
“‘I don’t really care what they say. My money is not coming back to me,’ said Sarmiento. ‘It’s about time this comes out to the community.’