Cecilia Diocson goes through some of the stored boxes at the Phillipine Women Centre of B.C. at 451 Powell St.

Photograph By DAN TOULGOET, Vancouver Courier

Editor’s note: With the current sale of Bahay Migrante, we reprint the story we wrote in July 2013 when The Kalayaan Centre was demolished and why the two centres are linked.

KALAYAAN CENTRE CRUMBLES TO DUST

Analysis

By Ted Alcuitas

Senior Editor

Philippine Asian News Today

July 2013

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Police tape surround the Kalayaan Centre hours before bulldozers leveled it to the ground. (Photo:Ted Alcuitas)

Vancouver, B.C. – Once the iconic symbol of militant advocacy for Philippine issues in Vancouver, the Kalayaan Centre (KC) building at 451 Powell St. in the downtown eastside crumbled to a heap on Wednesday night (July 24) as crews demolished the centuries-old structure due to safety reasons.

The demolition came barely six weeks after Cecilia Diocson (also known as Cecilia Diocson-Sayo) gave an interview to the Vancouver Courier on June 20 saying that she was in Vancouver to revive the sagging fortunes of the beleaguered Philippine Women’s Centre which she helped found with Elena Dudan-Cruz in the late 80s.

Diocson, who works as a nurse in Montreal, came to Vancouver in June to “sign the papers” according to Tom Chow.

Chow told PNT at the sidelines of the demolition on June 24 that he had already purchased the Kalayaan Centre and Cecilia “drove all the way to Vancouver to sign the deal.” 

While Chow refused to divulge the purchase price, tax information documents provided to PNT by a source indicated the amount was $263,287.00, way below the current assessed value of $433,900.00. The date of sale was March 19, 2013.

It was Chow, who owns the Double Happiness Foods two doors west of the centre, who phoned the police and eventually the Fire Dept. to alert them of the “collapsed wall” of the neighbouring structure used as a single occupancy (SRO) hotel owned by the Chinese Benevolent Society.

The ten tenants of the building, mostly old Chinese seniors were moved to the city-owned 2300 Motel on Kingsway during the demolition. The fate of these tenants are not known as the city has ordered the owners not to use the building until proper structural remedies are implemented. 

It is not clear who will pay for demolition costs as well as housing costs for the ten seniors. A source says rent charges for the motel are $750 a month.

In a CBC radio interview, Vancouver city officials said they would charge the Philippine Women Centre for demolition costs. The PWC is still the legal owner of the building since according to Chow, the possession date of the building is Sept. 15, 2013. 

Documents obtained by PNT showed the current property tax balance owed to the city by PWC is $5,582.42, which is made up of current year (2013) unpaid taxes + penalties, and unpaid 2012 taxes. The property could be sold by the city for taxes in November next year if the outstanding taxes are not paid. A demolition does not impact the taxes owing since the debt remains with the property to be collected. 

PNT failed to obtain  information from Vancity for existing mortgage balance and any foreclosure proceedings against PWC prior to the demolition and the sale of the building.

A bank official told PNT no information on a mortgage would be released to the public under privacy laws.

However, based on the original mortgage of $225,000 in 1997 at 7.5% and assuming the same monthly payments of $1,646.18 and no change of interest, the mortgage balance will be $139,367.24 at the end of 15 years since 1997 not including interest and penalties.

It is normal banking practice to foreclose on a mortgage if there are defaults on payments.

Calls to the PWC and email message were not returned by deadline time.

Efforts to obtain telephone numbers of former and current volunteers were also unsuccessful.

The Kalayaan Centre first opened its doors at 451 Powell St. in the downtown eastside across the Oppenheimer Park on November 1996 after a group of women, mainly live-in caregivers, pooled their resources to purchase the building.

The women raised a total of $80,000 in cash as a down payment, subsequently obtaining a mortgage from Vancity Credit Union for $225,000 in June 1997, documents obtained by Philippine Asian News Today (PNT) from the B.C. Land Titles Office show.

The building was not acquired through government funding as Diocson said in The Courier interview and has never received any capital grants from the three levels of government since its existence.

Observers say it was a fitting end to the trouble-plagued centre which was home to the Philippine Women’s’ Centre, B.C. (PWC) and seven other grassroots community organizations. These included the B.C. Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (BCHRP), Filipino Nurses Support Group (FSNG), Sulong, Itaguyod ang Karapatan ng Mangagawa sa Labas ng Bansa (Siklab), Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance (FCYA/UKPC), and the Sinag Bayan Cultural Group,Kalayaan Resource & Training Centre and the Coop radio show Tinig ng Masa.

The building has been empty since 2008 and 2010 when the organizations under the umbrella of the PWC decided to move out due to the deteriorating condition of the building particularly the roof leaks. The organizations, who mainly fund-raised through catering services and having a kiosk at the popular annual event ‘Under the Volcano’ at Cates Park in North Vancouver, could not afford to pay the more than $30,000 needed to repair the leaking roof at the back of the structure.

At this time, the volunteer-run Centre was experiencing not only a deterioration of its physical structure, but also its internal governance, leading to a major ‘split’ in the organization with some former members leaving to form Migrante B.C. 

Cecilia Sayo-Diocson, the leading force behind the centre and one of its original two founders, had by then, moved to Montreal to help organize a Quebec wing of PWC. More importantly, Diocson’s move was designed to be “near the centre” of the action- meaning Ottawa, where most of the decisions about government policies reside.

The goal was to form a PWC and other organizations in each of Canada’s major urban centres – Montreal, Toronto and  Winnipeg.

Only Toronto, with it’s Magkaisa Centre,  and Montreal, have an active presence and observers doubt if PWC could ever reestablished a foothold in B.C. given the current debacle.

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