No comment from AFTA leadership: ‘We have moved on’ (Part 2)

AFTA adviser Lilia Juele

AFTA adviser Lilia Juele

By Cristina DC Pastor

I met Lilia Juele on account of my TOFA-NY duties, and we became Facebook friends soon after. Later, we would chance upon each other at a Philippine Consulate Independence Day reception in June, sharing a quick “hello.” At that time, AFTA had already lost many of its leaders. But I wasn’t aware, until I began to work on this series, that Juele played a central role in this episode. Her name kept popping up in my interviews.

I came to know more about her at the beginning of a phone interview for this article. Juele is the director of eLearning & Academic Technology at SUNY Rockland Community College. She is also an academic faculty.

“A teacher forever,” she said, a friendly voice on the other end of the line.

She came to the U.S. in 1986 immediately after the People Power revolution in the Philippines. She joined her husband who was already working in the purchasing department of a private company. Their two children would follow a year later.

Juele said she was the first president of AFTA in 1987. It was not clear how 1989 became the birth year of AFTA in its written history. It appears AFTA was loosely formed in 1987, and because the members were busy with the immigration campaign, AFTA was only formally established in 1989.

It was under her leadership, according to Juele, that AFTA initiated the filing of incorporation papers as a tax-exempt, 501(c)3 organization.

“We put together all the documents for our 501(c)3 application to show that we were a non-profit,” she said. By the time she left, after serving for seven years as president, the papers have not moved much.

“Between 1989 and 1996, we were doing 501(c)3. It never materialized,” she said. “It was a busy time, we were building up (the organization).”

By the time she left AFTA around 1996, she said Lumen Castaneda joined the organization and got the incorporation papers filed.

“No question there. No one is taking that (credit) away from her,” said Juele.

From 1996 to 2013, she said she became an inactive member as she got busy implementing SUNY’s e-Learning program.

“Since 1996 to 2013, pinabayaan ko na sila. I was on the side as an adviser, I would visit every now and then,” she said.

Juele’s commitment to AFTA is unassailable. In an email communication to an officer, she reiterates her vision on how the organization should move forward with AFTA New York as the “mother organization.”

“I do not have to spell out what AFTA organizers (composed mostly of New York and New Jersey with a few from other states teachers) did in 1989 with the approval of the 1989 bill into a law happened, making it into a law resulting to almost all Filipino teachers at that time to get their green card. If these teachers were deported, there may be no AFTA that has existed for 25 years!

“I do not have to mention to you that BALIKTURO is ‘the’ return-to-teach project now being copied by others…The Philippine Consulate (is) now conducting the Paaralan sa Konsulado in the state of New York. I could go on and on with the projects that AFTA, now composed of mostly the younger generation have been continuing the AFTA history and legacy and keeps on building new projects…”

My phone interview with Juele came to a screeching halt when we went to the heart of the story: Why Castaneda was ousted.

Juele replied with her own question: “What is the purpose of this interview?”

In short, she refused to proceed and suggested referring all questions to AFTA president Raul Cajigas.

AFTA President Raul Cajigas

AFTA President Raul Cajigas

Cajigas is a young high school science teacher. He joined AFTA in 2004 and held various positions of responsibility over the years: board member in 2008-2010; vice president for operations in 2010-2012 and again in 2012-Feb 2014; executive vice president from February to May 2014, until he was elected president for 2014-2016.

I emailed Cajigas a dozen questions I was hoping to ask Juele until I was passed on to him. Here are some of them:

• Why was Lumen Castaneda impeached?

• How would you respond to accusations that 1) Castaneda was removed because of age, 2) She was too popular she was becoming the face of AFTA?

• The Philippine Consulate made attempts to bring the two groups together but nothing happened. Why?

Cajigas and I went back and forth with emails. Like Juele, he asked what purpose this article would serve. I sent him my reply by email:

“Dear Raul and AFTA officers:

“The AFTA story has captivated our community in a compelling way. People continue to talk about it at every gathering because the story has a lot of unanswered questions. Unfortunately, the way we usually talk is to break down stories into gossip and speculation sidestepping the truth because some of us prefer not to talk about things that make us uncomfortable.

“That is the reason journalists write stories. To dig out the truth and find out what happened.

“The FilAm, an independent community publication — — is trying to piece together the AFTA story by speaking to the personalities involved. Hopefully this will lay to rest all ugly speculations which may not be fair to you or the other side.

“… In the interest of fairness, I would be grateful if you send in your response. That way, we provide the community two versions of the ’truth’ – theirs and yours – and thinking Filipinos that we are will come to our own conclusions.”

The questions languished with Cajigas for more than two weeks. He said the officers and board members were divided: some wanted to respond, others did not. When I pressed him for a deadline, Cajigas sent this email:

“Our lawyer’s advice was not to answer the questions for we have explained our side already to ConGen (Mario Lopez de Leon) and Ms. Loida Lewis. In fact Ms. Lewis affirmed that Ulirang Guro would remain as (an) AFTA project…We have moved on already and we’re focusing on our worthy projects in line with our mission and vision.”

NEXT: The consulate attempts an intervention

The FilAm’s Investigative Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of our readers and contributors including the following:

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