By Mariano “Anong” Santos
....."Surviving FACGC/ Rizal Center"
left pic: elaine lehman
But then as the saying goes—the road to hell is paved with that stuff. Using another cliché, solutions can be worse than the problems.
Jerry Clarito, who took over the slot of the ailing Alfonso Bascos, in its group’s board of directors two years ago, started taking leading roles. In a leadership seminar last January, he brought a person whom he identified as an experienced grant writer. Clarito, who headed the advocacy group, AFIRE, knows that proper grant proposals bring needed money for community organizations. That person is Elaine Lehman.
Self-assured, wily, very controlling and focused, Lehman soon wormed herself in the innermost circle of the beleaguered group. She got appointed executive director. The FACGC is supposedly governed by 21 members of the board of directors. In a meeting presided by its president, Dr. Rufino Crisostomo, it is assumed that the body gave its approval to Lehman’s appointment. But her scope of responsibilities remained vague and undefined.
Suddenly, complaints against Lehman’s actions relating to FACGC’s affairs are the talk of the community. The mainstays, Bascos couple—Al and Thelma—were unceremoniously banished from the Center. Thelma was practically forced to tender her resignation as vice president. Al’s law office in the Center reportedly had been entered into without his consent and was told to vacate it on short notice.
The Knights of Rizal from which its goodwill brought prestige and honor to the Center that adopted the hero’s name, were also told on Lehman’s order, to pack up its collection of Rizaliana, shocking its members due to the fact that Dr. Crisostomo is a high ranking member of the fraternity. Recently, Lehman told Rev. Raul Fermin, KCR, that the FACGC is holding its Rizal Day on June 19 and informed him that the KOR can join the event. The KOR constitution requires that the Knights should be in charge of this celebration. This further rattled the KOR—members demanding an explanation from Dr. Crisostomo.
The KOR is one of the six remaining organizations affiliated with the FACGC. Just about the same time this report came out, a dependable and generous donor, Lourdes Livas, a top member of another FACGC-affiliate, Joy Dance, had expressed her anger over her group’s complaint that Lehman shabbily dumped their belongings that are kept in the Center for their regular Friday dancing sessions.
“And she even jacked up our fee for the use of the facilities. Just like that. I helped in many ways in the financial needs of the Center and Dr. Crisostomo knows that. He owes me an explanation. Meanwhile I support our club’s search for another place. We will leave the Rizal Center,” said Mrs. Livas last March 26 at the Marriott’s, after she presided over the meeting of the Philippine Independence Week Committee in which she heads.
Sally Richmond, a longtime AFIRE volunteer and a Tagalog teacher at the Rizal Center, shared her aggravating encounter with Lehman leading, also, to resigning her position as director. “Her controlling demeanor is bad for one’s health. I don’t need that,” she sighed. Sally announced that she ended her Tagalog classes at the Center and moved her teaching adjacent to Lito Pineda’s Progressive Printing Shop at 7315 N. Western Ave. Pineda also chimed in having learned what’s happening at the Center, “How could one person bully the officers, didn’t they not appoint her?” he wondered. He is not alone in wondering.
“Even the Virgin Mary is left in the dark, literally,” said a First Saturday devotee, his group also one of the loyal six groups who stayed around for many years maintaining the Center’s meditation room which Lehman piously declared as religious discrimination that is against the 501-c 3 status of the FACGC. She told the group to vacate the place and kept the Virgin’s statue in a closet.
There are three FACGC traditions led by the First Saturday devotees. The Feast of the Sto. Nino in January, a “Pabasa” during the Holy Week and the Flores de Mayo. The group has decided to hold these cherished traditions somewhere else. As for the group remaining as a member of the FACGC?—“That doesn’t stand a prayer,” quipped the member.
One member-association that Lehman is treating with kid’s gloves is the Filipino American Grandparents Association of Chicago. “The group is being patronized because of its ‘rich coffer,’ observed a critic. “But she makes no mistake about it, these seniors are not happy on how most of them are treated in the center lately,” he continued.
Apparently, their Saturday Bingo sessions were discontinued. The Catholic Charities food distribution every third Sunday of the month is increasingly being shunned since Lehman changed the way the recipients get their packages—again without adequate warning. “Many were allowed in the past to pick up the provisions of their friends who are disabled—without notice. Lehman mandated that no way will she allow that,” he added.
A report has it that the number of recipients who came for the distribution was drastically reduced during the next Sunday of distribution. Many felt shamed or disrespected. Some voiced their concerns that the Center has become like Fort Knox—complete with uniformed guards. Locks were changed and doors are always closed. Worshippers for the Holy Redeemer Church on Sundays grumbled about the hassle of having Lehman to let them enter. She designated her husband, Ari, as security guard, janitor and public relations man to watch the doors of the Center, which used to be welcoming before.
So who is Elaine Lehman and how is she getting away with all these powers—in just a period of two months? Why does Dr. Crisostomo allow these things to happen?
The remaining directors--Jerry Clarito, who is now the vice president, Cesar Yabut, who replaced Jimmy Alban as treasurer, Carmen Estacio and Dennis Cruz are in a way complicit to this lack of transparency.
One who is close to Dr. Crisostomo is afraid that he is being manipulated. (“pinapaikot siya.”) In the past year, he had two major operations—for kidney and lung cancer. He is reported to be due for another biopsy of the gallbladder. Most of last year, he was on medical leave and Thelma Bascos presided over the affairs of the FACGC. That he has a lapsed memory had been observed by many persons in the Center. Is he capable of discharging his duties?
He has made very serious mistakes—outstanding among these was his failure to heed the warnings of many not to let the Northwestern Health Care School controlled by Jenita Julian to rent spaces at the Center. The school was evicted by the Chicago Archdiocese from the former educational building of Lourdes Catholic Church. Dr. Crisostomo sits as member of Northwestern Health.
He ignored the warnings and let Mrs. Julian takeover most of the spaces at the Center. Eventually the FACGC spent money to evict the school with over $60,000 of unpaid rent. Dr. Crisostomo again ignored pleas for the Center to collect the debt. In a KOR related case, Nellie Dy donated $2000 in memory of her husband who was a Knight of Rizal, to memorialize him by replacing the stolen bust of Rizal. The money was instead placed in the general funds—to the disappointment of Mrs. Dy—a member of the Ladies for Rizal headed by Carmen Estacio.
Some are contemplating legal remedies on what has transpired under the watch of Elaine Lehman. But the ailing Dr. Crisostomo stands to be left holding the bag. Will he survive all these? Will the FACGC survive?
Rizal will be lost again in all these, for sure.