After NY Filipino Restaurant Week, Consulate is served with a lawsuit
NEW YORK – Filipino Restaurant Week in New York last year started out as a felicitous occasion for the community. How it ended up with the Philippine Consulate being served with a lawsuit is a story with many ingredients: a Facebook contest, accusations of misconduct, and a protesting contestant.
“We had fun, everything was okay until this happened,” said travel executive and president of Orientours New York Joebert Opulencia.
Opulencia recalls in his lawsuit that the consulate mounted a contest from August 18 to 27 where the “best post with the most Likes” wins a round-trip ticket to the Philippines. He registered to join the contest.
“The most Likes, not Love, Care, Laugh or Wow…,” he made clear.
Towards the end of the contest, two people emerged leading the vote: Opulencia and Melissa Alviar. The two friends kept close tabs into the early morning of Aug. 28 to find out who won. As of 2:17 a.m. of Aug. 28, Opulencia had 593 Likes and Alviar, his closest rival, had 519 Likes and 65 Loves for a total of 584 at 1:43 a.m., according to screen shots presented in court documents.
Opulencia said he even received a congratulatory text message from Alviar saying, “Congratulations! Ikaw na (meaning ‘You won.’). It was a good run.”
After weeks of waiting an official announcement, Opulencia sent an email to the consulate on Sept. 22, asking for the results from Deputy Consul General Arman Talbo. He was told on the same day that “Unfortunately based on the tabulation made by our outside media and tech partner and upon their recommendation, Melissa won the contest. You are however entitled to one of the minor prizes…”
Shock and dismay could not begin to describe Opulencia’s reaction. He was surprised to know how one with the most Like votes was not declared the winner. He asked for a copy of the tabulation. Talbo declined, saying, “That is for internal purposes only.” Opulencia pressed on saying that since it’s a public contest, the “public deserves to know how the winner won.”
“Why did it take them that long to announce the winner? Winners are usually announced one or two weeks after the contest,” he mused.
Opulencia documenting his restaurant-hopping episodes on Facebook.
Opulencia huffed and puffed to the Supreme Court of the State of New York on Nov. 5, 2021 with his complaint against the Philippine Consulate General in New York, demanding answers.
Replying on Nov. 26 through Vice Consul Tanya Faye Ramiro, a lawyer, the consulate asked that the case be dismissed, citing the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations clause on diplomatic immunity.
Paragraph 1 of Article 43 states: “Consular officers and consular employees shall not be amenable to the jurisdiction of the judicial or administrative authorities of the receiving States in respect of acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.”
The response carried a statement from Consul General Elmer Cato, saying the plaintiff “could have amicably discussed the matter with the Consul General.”
Opulencia said Cato was copied in all the emails sent to Talbo. “They could have called me, told me to stop, and just honor the decision they made. Instead, ConGen wanted me to apologize, and apologize publicly.”
For the most part, yes, but Opulencia is still steaming after a picture of the awarding was posted on Facebook on July 2022 – after almost a year — with a beaming Alviar receiving her FRW prize.
“I was ready to keep quiet but they released a photo,” he said. The wound reopened.
States Opulencia, “The lawsuit has nothing to do with Melissa, it’s how the consulate conducted the contest.” © The FilAm 2022