Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Challenge to the New Breed

In my Special Proceedings class today, I interrupted regular programming, as it were, and spent fifteen (15) minutes of my class time to discuss the editorial of the Establishment yesterday, entitled "Judical Underworld". I've heard a lot of insults against lawyers before, but none was as biting as yesterday's editorial, which declared in one line the state of the legal profession in this country, "Our lawyers have run off with the law."

After reading the editorial yesterday, my instinctive reaction was to fight back with a blog title that goes,"Who do you think you are, you lie peddlers?" That would have been fun, but that would have missed the point. I told the class, this is the paper with the widest circulation in this country, speaking. It has the best opinion makers, and the greatest power to move people. It has sent two presidents packing. Now, it has judged our profession, and you know what? It may be right. So what are we going to do about it?

I have a theory. We could have corrupt presidents, corrupt senators, corrupt congressmen, but we should never have corrupt judges. For if our judiciary were clean, we could be sure that none of the corrupt officials would get away. We could always say, we would take them to court. But if we have a corrupt judiciary, then where could we take them? The entire system would fall. We would have chaos, lawlessness, and disorder. Everyman for himself. As if World War II did not end.

What are we going to do about it?

Red, my law partner, and I have taken on two cases against erring judges before the Court Administrator. I think that's a start. We would be doing what the big Makati law firms have been avoiding all this time, which is cross swords, as it were, with the men in robes.

Of course, I did an analysis. Assuming the judges we are prosecuting issue a death edict among their corrupt colleagues in the judiciary to ensure that we won't win any case in their salas, our office would still survive. My associate told me one judge whom I criticized for the bad writing of his law clerk already did. Our Firm, he said, would never win in Makati. I am the least worried. The damage could be contained, because we have more corporate accounts than cases. Besides, our practice has always been focused on how to help clients avoid litigation. Of course, we would get hurt. But we would take the damage for whatever its worth. Never mind if we never become a big law firm one day. In times like this, a little Sun Tzu analysis is all we need to get by.

And to my class, I left this threat. Don't you ever end up like the corrupt lawyers and judges of today, for I will have you disbarred. I don't wake up at 4:00 am every Saturday and drive all the way to Cabanatuan City just to end up teaching what the Establishment calls legal lemons. I will have you disbarred, if that is the last thing I have to do.

I hope the rest of the legal profession heeds the call.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I'm done with Twelve.

Don't get me wrong, I loved Ocean's Eleven. Never mind that it is about a robbery, and the heroes are the robbers. But the sequel "Ocean's Twelve" really put me to sleep. Roger Ebert liked it. He writes, "Now, with 'Ocean's Twelve,' (they ) are doing a jazz riff. This isn't a caper movie at all, it's an improvisation on caper themes. If at times it seems like a caper, well, as the fellow said when he got up from the piano, it might not be Beethoven, but it has a lot of the same notes."

This is one of the rare times I have to disagree with Ebert. It's like how the Filipino movie scribes justify a mess of a Regal film, the kind where they put the Regal Babies together to pack in the crowds, and the script was written at the back of cigarrette case. Fine, the allusion to a jazz riff might be an explanation. But, this is not a song. This is a movie. At the end of the film, I felt like having emerged from watching an animated film from the seventies. The figures are stick-like, shallow, and the plot is something a twelve year old would have in his mind for a home movie with an all-star cast. Really, I was waiting for the song and dance part that usually accompanied the end of a Mother Lily film in the old days. The result, a bored lawyer. Frankly, I think Hollywood has ran out of ideas. I'm going back to the classics.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Is Justice Sandoval telling us something?

Sun Tzu says,

Those who are skilled in warfare will always bring the enemy where they want to fight and are not brought there by the enemy.

There is a joke among Filipino lawyers that to win a case, you don't need to know the law, you only need to know the judge. So if you apply Sun Tzu in trial practice, the first principle is to bring the case to a judge who will make you win. And if the other side brings it to its judge, find a way to convert the judge or try to get the judge to resign.

Today, the Establishment carries the story of the resignation of Sandiganyan Justice Edilberto Sandoval, who is part of the special division trying former President Erap Estrada. It appears that Justice Sandoval is the only justice who dissented from the controverial rulings of the Court, which rulings granted Estrada special concessions while in jail, including the grant for a trip to Hongkong for a knee operation. Officially, Justice Sandoval cited health reasons for his resignation, but unofficially, the Establishment says it's because of the "flip-flopping of (his) colleagues".

I'm trying to read between the lines. Is he saying that he could not trust his colleagues anymore, and that he wouldn't want to continue lending his name to this process? Is he saying that the three-man special body is already Estrada's battleground? Is he saying that this three-man special body is disposed on letting Erap free?

Or is he saying that the division is doing its job well and that they should carry on with what they're doing -- he he he like one plus one equals three.

Well, the law is the law but Sun Tzu rules.

UPDATE: 1-12-05

The Establishment reports that the Supreme Court has rejected the resignation of Justice Sandoval, citing the fact that Sandoval did not adequately show that his medical condition will prevent him from pursuing his role as member of the special division. The story is found here.

UPDATE 1-13-05

Erap is coming home on Saturday to, ehem, lead the opposition. The story is found here. He is unfazed by threats to sanction him for violating his "hospital arrest" while in Hongkong. Ha ha ha what can they do, jail him?

UPDATE 1-14-05

Justice Sandoval said he will comply with the Supreme Court resolution rejecting his resignation from the Sandiganbayan Special Division. He also said he will submit proof that he is suffering from vertigo and asthma. Full story here. Just imagine how these justices will act when they huddle back in the chambers. I wonder what Justice Sandoval is thinking. Does he have regrets for starting this whole thing? And the fellow justices (frankly, I don't remember their names) what are they thinking?

Justice Sandoval could pretend that nothing happened, and go about his business as usual, or he could call the whole thing off and give up his robes for good. This is what I call the Sun Tzu moment, akin to that precise moment when the archer has stretched the bow to its maximum potential. The aim is good. He should release the arrow now to hit its target. If Justice Sandoval wants a lasting place in history, he should know what to do now. If he bungles it or tarries too long, he will become another Erap joke.

Think Legolas.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Of course, the current problem of College Assurance Plan (CAP) meeting tuition fee obligations of its planholders is largely the fault of its managers. They were too aggressive on property investments, and the MRT investment is still a losing proposition. People say CAP's actuarials failed to realize the tremendous increase in tuition fees across time, which unfortunately could not be matched by returns on sour placements.

But that's the risk every planholder should have known. I knew that from the beginning. That's why I ran away as fast as I could every time those persistent pre-need salesmen knocked on my door. And I managed to keep my money away from these people, in spite of their tactics, which at times were similar to boiler room operatins. Those who managed to land an appointment with me got an hour's doze of lawyerly cross-examination, and walked away vowing to sell nothing to me ever again.

Yet, at the end of the day, if CAP eventually shuts down (look at what happened to industry pioneer PAMANA), CAP shareholders and managers can walk away, and say, "Sorry guys, it didn't work," while their insolvency lawyers take charge. And the poor planholders will have nothing but the proverbial empty bag. Whoever said that you should save money for your child's future education and put it on pre-need plans should be shot.

Is that all there is to it? I think the accusing finger should also point to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC is the single government agency tasked to monitor and supervise CAP's operations. Why did they fail to check CAP's over exposure on the property sector? Why did they allow CAP to move its money to the MRT project? When CAP's investments didn't return with the projected numbers, why didn't the SEC do something about it?

A few years back, I noticed CAP suddenly becoming very aggressive in advertising its products. They were all over the radio, tv and print media. They even had a full page ad with the names and pictures of their directors and officers who were prominent businessmen. Some were even esteemed lawyers. Sun Tzu guy that I was, I knew CAP was in trouble. (Take a tip: when financial institutions are suddenly all over you, on the radio, tv, and newspaper with big promises, it's often a last grasp of breathe. That's the Sun Tzu principle of deception. "When you are strong, pretend to be weak. When you are weak, pretend to be strong"). Unfortunately, blogging wasn't popular then, and I could not warn any one about the possible dangers. Alas, I was right. Last year, CAP check payments for planholder tutition fees bounced. Why did the SEC allow this to happen?If it had known that CAP's investments were not kicking in, why did it allow CAP to indulge in that expensive campaign, which I surmised was initiated to generate new revenues from new planholders to allow CAP to meet maturing obligations?

CAP is run by businessmen with revenue targets to meet. They are expected to take risks. If they just got the money and put it in the bank, the whole thing would have crumbled easily. And as in all business endeavors, the bigger the risks the higher the returns. They took the risks, big and small, but they didn't pay-off. That's why the CAP managers could simply say, we did our jobs, but it didn't work. Pasensya na.

Next to CAP's Board of Directors, the only other people who could have known CAP's situation (and who had the power to prevent the fall-out) are the people in the SEC. When CAP's managers pushed, the SEC regulators were expected to pull. The SEC is the last bastion of protection for planholders. That was how the system was designed to protect the investing public from the businessmen, and the businessmen from themselves.

So who did not do their job?

People in the SEC -- YOU, yes, you, you deserve every curse from the parents of the kids whose tuition fee check payments have bounced.

Please hand in your resignations before the next pre-need company "bites the dust", as Freddie Mercury would put it.

(revised post)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Here's to RVA

One afternoon in the big firm where I used to work, I took a break from writing a pleading, and went to the pantry. As is common with all big firms, the pantry was the lawyers' haven. We had a fridge, cold water dispenser, microwave, toaster, and comfortabe dining tables and chairs. It's not much, but our pantry was where the lawyers could turn to their old selves again at the end or in the middle of a long lawyerly day. It's the place where we gossip about movie stars, and wonder whether we actually missed a career in basketball.

Ramonito V. Abarico or RVA (by tradition, lawyers call each other by their initials in law firms) was a pantry regular. He had a fellow young associate with him then, but his name escapes me now. RVA, a little overweight for his five foot four frame, had boundless energy. He was doing litigation in the firm, and was working days and nights because of a major case involving some of our bosses. He was the designated foot soldier, and he bore a big brunt of the work. But RVA knew when to relax, and that moment he was actually doing that. I noticed they were having bacon and pandesal for snacks. Nothing extra-ordinary there, except that between them they had about 400 grams of bacon. They cooked it on the microwave oven, and it smelled really good. It was soaked in its own oil (about four cups of it). It looked delicious, and the boys appeared to be enjoying it.

Flash forward to another day, same setting and time of day, but in this instance, the boys were introducing me to the wonders of Palm chili-flavored corned beef. The great thing about it? -- the chunks of beef (not minced) that it offered, and the chili flavor that makes you beg for more. I introduced it to my family, and since then, our breakfast was never the same gain.

Over these snacks, RVA and I talked about work and life strategies. He said he wanted to build a house for his young family. He had a daughter then while I still had two boys (I now have three boys and a girl). Partnership was not in our minds. It was just how to increase our take home pay. I told him I was making extra cash by referring clients to the Firm. We got fifteen percent (15%)for each referral. Not bad, if you're billing in the hundreds of thousands. He tried out the strategy for a while, and started to refer work to the firm. But he had other plans. Eventually, he moved to a firm, which reportedly paid bonuses in dollars. As for me, I decided to work for myself, and put up my own firm.

Two years ago, we visited him in his room in his new Firm. He said he was still doing litigation, and he had to travel back and forth to Mindanao. He looked as if was having a better time.

Last month, I blogged about December being the hardest month for a lawyer. Just thinking about it makes the hair at the back of my head stand. Why?
Yesterday, I got a text message that RVA died that morning from a stroke. He's barely in his 30s. I'm speculating how it might have been for RVA last month. Did he stress himself too much? Did he have too much of the holiday food? I guess, it does not really matter now.

Four months ago, I shifted to a low fat diet, lots of vegetables and fruits and only up to three ounces of lean meat a day. No bacons. No Palm chili flavored corned beef. It might be the best decision I made for now.

As for RVA, I've been thinking about him all day. He was a good lawyer -- a good man with good skills in the law. May he find peace in heaven.

(original post)

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Thoughts for the New Year

My Agenda for 2005: Retire from the law practice.

That is -- if I could bag a major deal, which can ensure the education of my four kids, the youngest of which is four-month old Julian Agustin. Hah, maybe not this year, but who knows? Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying my work. And if I were to live my life again, I will make sure to repeat this detour to the legal profession. But more exciting and less strenous lives beckon -- like professional blogging and teaching, albeit low-paying. That's why I need that deal this year while I'm only hitting 35, so I can live the remainder of my years on this earth in more interesting terms. As my law professor and now Ateneo Law School Dean Atty. Cesar L. Villanueva used to say, the greatest tragedy that can happen to you in this world is to be born a baby and to die only a lawyer.

Things I'd like to see in 2005: Bloggers outscooping the Establishment

One of these days it is bound to happen. The pinoybloggers are arming themselves. They are writing better stuff in substance and form. And they have the built in advantage against the Establishment: no payolas, no envelopes, and no corrupt desk editors, how can it not happen this year?

Still hunting: The New Paradigm of Power

I mentioned it before: democracy sucks. The masses are easily fooled. From where should political power emanate? So far history has placed the X mark on the divine right of kings, the tyrants who got power from military conquests, and the politburo who wielded the communist revolution in the USSR. I am writing off democracy, but I have nothing better to replace it with. That's why I'm still hunting for the new paradigm of power. In the meantime, we all have to bear its mistakes, like Time Magazine's Man of the Year George W. Bush.

By the way, I have stopped my Time subscription two years ago. And I am not renewing for as long as they keep making this mistake over and over.

Books I'd like to see in 2005

1. Sassy Lawyer's houseonahill
2. Batjay's blog book.
3. Mona Veluz's Renaissance Girl
4. The Inquirer's book on blogs (ha ha ha for my friendly neighborhood bote dyaryo dealer)

Crisis to prepare for: the power crisis.

If you are building a house this year, make sure you allot about 160K for solar power generation. I have confirmed from friends in the power industry that it is certainly going to happen. Our government is not going to meet the power demands and pretty soon we are going to experience a similar power crisis (probably worse)that the country experienced in the early 1990s. As for me, I'm postponing the Ipod in favor of a diesel run household generator -- urg!

Happy New Year to all!