After Filipino Restaurant Week, consulate served with a lawsuit

Travel executive Joebert Opulencia: ‘It was fun until this happened.’ Facebook photos

By Cristina DC Pastor

Filipino Restaurant Week in New York in 2021 started out as one felicitous occasion for the community. How it ended up with the Philippine Consulate being served with a lawsuit is a story that has a concoction of many ingredients: a Facebook contest, accusations of misconduct, and a protesting contestant.

“We had fun, everything was ok until this happened,” said travel executive and president of Orientours New York Joebert Opulencia.

Opulencia recalled in his lawsuit how 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.

Toward the end of the contest, two people emerged to be leading: Opulencia and Melissa Alviar. The two friends kept close tabs way into the early morning of August 28 to find out who won. As of 2:17 a.m. of August 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.

Said Opulencia, he even received a congratulatory text message from Alviar saying, “Congratulations! Ikaw na (meaning ‘I won.’). It was a good run.”

After weeks awaiting 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.

To the Supreme Court of the State of New York Opulencia huffed and puffed on November 5, 2021 with his complaint filed against the Philippine Consulate General in New York, demanding answers.

The consulate, through Vice Consul Tanya Faye Ramiro who is a lawyer, replied on November 26. In its reply, 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.”

Case dismissed?

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

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