Wednesday, September 22, 2004

INQ reads a Supreme Court decision on Work and Love

The Inquirer reports a recent Supreme Court decision upholding a pharmaceutical company's rule that prohibits its employees from marrying employees of a competitior. The Inquirer slants the lead of the story in a manner that makes the Supreme Court sound very anti-labor -- quite irresponsible of the Inquirer, I believe -- but the decision is consistent with law and jurisprudence.

The Labor Code provides that "(a)n employer may terminate an employment for any of the following causes: (a) ... willful disobedience by the employee of the lawful orders of his employer or representative in connection with his work..." (Art. 282)
If you break it down to its elements, these elements are the following: 1) an employee disobeys the rule; 2) the disobedience is something that the employee desired and not by some other third party cause; and 3) the rule is reasonably connected with the employee's work.

No problem with elements 1 and 2. The issue is number 3. The essence of the rule has to do with the time-honored value of preventing "conflicts-of-interest" between the personal and the professional lives of an employee. If an employee marries somebody from a competitor, chances are he will be exchanging trade secrets with his spouse over breakfast. Further, the employee's loyalty will surely be in question, especially so that the success of the competitor will bring him indirect benefits through the spouse who works for the other side. In the case of the couple employed with competing pharmaceutical companies, they could even get into debates such as which cough syrup will they give their son. The situation is awkard for all concerned. That's why the rule is reasonable, and no doubt it is relevant to employment.

But what does my favorite newspaper do? Spin off the story as if it were an epic battle between love and economic interest, to which the mighty Supreme Court decides in favor of economic interest. Geez, to me it's really just a story about a man, who after marrying the girl of his dreams, still wants to keep his job.

Monday, September 20, 2004

LIfe of Pi: A Review

What would happen if you put a sixteen-year old Indian boy and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker on a lifeboat adrift across the Pacific for 227 days? I'm sure Butch Dalisay, the Phlippines's best living short story writer, would approve. Stephen King might not even forgive himself for not thinking about that silly premise himself. Stephen King wrote, "the story is in the situation." And Yann Martel's situation in "Life of Pi" would have flopped were it not for his masterful rendering of the piece. Thus, what we have in "Life of Pi" is not just a premise for a story but a metaphor of the human condition: man and beast lost in the vast sea of being and nothingness, and it would be up to man to tame the beast and draw from it the spiritual strength to move on and find God. Great story. I would rate it one notch higher than Hemingway's "Old Man and the Sea" chiefly because Hemingway has no God and Yann Martel can match word for word Hemingway's style.

The main character Pi (as in 3.14 the irrational number) short for Piscine (French for swimming pool) spends his adolescence studying zoology and three unique religions. He lives with a family of zookeepers who soon decides to emigrate to Canada on a Japanese freighter, named Tsimtsum. But halfway through their voyage the ship sinks. The disaster strands Pi in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Soon, Richard Parker has disposed of everyone except Pi and what follows is the story of the castway with an oversized perpetually hungry feline companion. It is in this threshhold between life and death that "Life of Pi" manages to shake its reader, grab him, and take him to metaphysical heights.

You have to credit Yann Martel for managing to keep it intact for 319 pages. And as he moves it from page one to page 319, he transgresses subjects ranging from sloths, zookeeping, Hinduism, Christianity, marine life and even constipation in the high seas. Scene after scene Yann Martel's prose builds up with such realism that at the end of book, I wondered, is this true? Well, all good art is true. And this book, "Life of Pi" is definitely good art -- a great diversion from the lawyer's pre-occupation with the here and now.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Kafkaesque in the Philippines

I once received a text message from a friend asking if I could him assist him in posting bail. After having the records checked, I learned that he had been charged with Estafa, and the judge set his bail at PHP 40,000.

The following day my friend came to my office. He said he had been arrested a few days before but the police decided to set him free without posting bail. He had many visitors who came to see him, and the police had difficulty receiving them. Apparently, most of these visitors were government people and big businessmen, and the jail didn't have enough chairs to accommodate them. Embarrassed at their inability to make my friend's rich and powerful visitors at ease, the police set my friend free.

I advised my friend that we should post bail for his own peace of mind. After all, the case still had to be dismissed, and unless he posted bail, the risk of getting arrested again is great. After gathering all the requirements for posting bail, I learned that out of hundreds of licensed bonding companies in the Philippines, only one could be accepted by the court. The rest were black-listed. The bonding industry and the court system were in a crisis. The bonding firms had issued bonds to the court which subsequently forfeited them. But the bonding firms did not pay. Thus, unless the bonding companies paid their obligations, their bonds would not be honored. This meant that there were hundreds of criminals on the loose who have jumped bail, the sheer number of which is enough to cause the break-down the bonding system altogether. This left my friend with only one bonding company to assist him in his need for a bail bond.

Worse, this bonding company refused to accommodate his application.The agents of the bonding company said that the lowest bond denomination they could issue was PHP 300,000. Anything below PHP 300,000 to the bonding company was a losing proposition.

Thus, my friend had no choice but to raise a cash bond. I then applied for a reduction of the bond to allow my friend to post a cash bond. Fortunately, the court granted the request and reduced the bond. Long out of job, my friend begged his relatives to help him raise PHP 22,000 for his temporary liberty.

When the day of the arraignment came, my friend appeared, entered a plea of not guilty, and prepared for our defense. The judge set the pre-trial date in December last year. My friend was righteous about his case. He said he was just a fall guy. He merely witnessed the transaction. He could not have been involved with the fraud.

Yet, the complainant never appeared. On the first day of the pre-trial and upon learning of the absence of the complainant, I moved for the dismissal of the case. The court denied my motion because the notice of pre-trial sent to the complainants had no registry return. According to the court, it had no proof that the complainant received the notice. The court claimed that the mail was sent too late and it may not have reached the complainant on time. This happened thrice: every time the complainant was absent, every time I moved for dismissal, and every time the court said it did not have a registry return. I decided to ask the court to send the notice by personal service. For this, my poor friend had to shell out PHP 500 for the process server's transportation expenses: the only reason why I did not ask for a personal service much earlier. Alas, the court finally learned that the complainant no longer resided in the address indicated in the records. The complainant had moved out and left with no forwarding address. Yet, it was not the end of it.

The prosecutor claimed that she had another address and thus requested the court to serve the notice on the other address. I objected vigorously to the request, but the judge refused to hear me.

In the meantime, my friend's health began to deteriorate. He never told me what was wrong with him. But he appeared more sickly each time we attended his hearing only to be told that the hearing was going to be reset.

Due to increasing back pains, my friend did not attend the next four hearings. In the same four hearings, the court determined that the complainant could not be reached. The prosecutor's new address was likewise no longer valid. I argued that clearly the complainant had lost interest in the case, and thus the case may now be dismissed. Yet, the court refused to dismiss the case due to the absence of my friend. The court did not honor the medical certificate attesting to my friend's poor health and warned that it would not dismiss the case unless my friend appeared.
To settle the matter once and for all, I asked my friend to come, even if he had to be carried in a stretcher. My friend, who all the while accepted his predicament with stoic dignity, broke down and expressed disgust and disappointment at the unreasonable strictness and grand scale mediocrity of the court. I couldn't tell him anything. It was settled that a provisional dismissal needs the consent of the accused, and the judge merely wanted to see the accused personally express his consent to the dismissal. And so gathering whatever was left of his resources and strength, my friend attended his last hearing on a stretcher. The judge, who probably had long lost her faith in medical certificates casually signed by doctors to absolve lawyers and litigants from absence in hearings, looked shocked to see my friend in his medical state. Sure enough, the complainant did not come, the court asked my friend whether he consented to a provisional dismissal to which my friend answerd yes, and then the court dismissed the case.

A few weeks later, my friend died of cancer in the spinal column.

Today, his widow is wondering how to encash the PHP 22,000 check issued by the Clerk of Court in the name of his late husband whose cash bond was cancelled as a result of the dismissal of the case. Apparently, bank regulations prohibit her from encashing it.