Community at a loss to explain Edmund Silvestre-vs-Filipino Reporter: ‘They were one happy family’

Reporter Edmund Silvestre; front page of the Filipino Reporter

Reporter Edmund Silvestre; front page of the Filipino Reporter

By Cristina DC Pastor

The Filipino community was taken aback by reports that Filipino Reporter’s long-time reporter Edmund Silvestre has filed a labor complaint against his former employers.

In Case 15 CV 4477 filed June 9, 2015 before the Southern District of New York, Silvestre is “seeking damages for the base salary he should have been paid, compensatory and liquidated damages for the overtime compensation he should have been paid, compensatory and punitive damages for the tax liabilities he incurred and benefits he lost as a result of the defendants’ payroll tax fraud, and his reasonable attorney’s fees and costs,” according to a report in the Philippine Daily Mirror.

It appears that Silvestre became the beneficiary of an employment-based petition, and was hired as a full-time reporter on a non-immigrant H-1B visa with a salary of $45K.

But in 2010, when he was able to adjust his status, Silvestre alleged his employers, the family of publisher Libertito Pelayo, decreased his compensation to $19K. He would be “constructively discharged by the defendants’ failure to pay his wages” in November 2014.

Silvestre made the following allegations:

-The defendants avoided paying the employer’s share of payroll taxes and shifted that burden to plaintiff in the form of self-employment taxes;
-He was denied unemployment benefits because the defendants had misclassified him as an independent contractor instead of a regular employee as when he was hired.

The Filipino community, while speaking vigorously about it in private emails and texts, preferred to keep their comments private.

“I need to hear both sides of the story,” said one community leader. “We know that they were real good friends and like a family, been happy together at work and outside work.”

Silvestre has been an editorial staffer of the Filipino Reporter for at least 10 years. According to court papers, he “worked at least 50-60 hours per week during his employment. He was writing stories, answering phone (calls) and helping with the production of the newspaper every week including by proofreading copy, arranging the layout of the newspaper, and performing other production tasks at Mr. Pelayo’s direction.”

An organizational chair said he would like to hear from Silvestre himself. “I’m quite concerned because I know him to be a good person, and now people will see him in a different light.”

In a statement, the Filipino Reporter called the lawsuit “frivolous.”

“After working with Mr. Silvestre for several years, we are deeply shocked and upset that he would make false allegations against us and the Filipino Reporter.

“What is even more disturbing is that these allegations are being brought so soon after the death of Libertito Pelayo. We are still mourning his loss.

“We intend to defend ourselves against this frivolous lawsuit and will also seek legal action against Mr. Silvestre,” says the statement issued to The FilAm and media organizations.

From an outsider’s point of view, everything seemed well between Silvestre and the Pelayo family seeing them together at events and community gatherings. The news came as a surprise to many.

“It looked like a father-son, mentor-mentee relationship to me,” said a long-time reader of the newspaper.

One community advocate said she is not surprised. Some Filipinos business owners exploit immigration status and personal relationships to avoid paying legal wages.

She said, “I just found out that he (Silvestre) was a loyal professional to the Filipino Reporter for years. It is a shame he wasn’t paid commensurately. He must pursue the charges. One shouldn’t allow good, personal relationship to be an excuse not to compensate people legally.”

“I hope it gets settled soon,” was a comment expressed by many.

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