Friday, May 20, 2005

Who are the people in your neighborhood? Mr. Bureaucrat

"What is the most important rule in life?", Mr. Bureaucrat, a career officer in a government agency, blurted as he swang his club and sent the golf ball 200 yards away. I managed only to shrug my shoulders, not knowing that Mr. Bureacrat was about to give me his life lessons with a swing.

"Never stick your neck out for anyone," he declared as we walk towards the golf ball in the green. "You know kid, in my youth, I once facilitated a big transaction in which powers that be made a lot of money, because of my signature. I was given my share, but theirs were a lot more. And we partied like we have been friends all our lives. But things got bad when the lawsuits started coming, and I was left on my own. I paid the lawyers, I paid the fixers, I paid everybody who demanded to get paid to get my ass off the hook. And you know what? I was left on my own. My fair weather friends wouldn't even send me money for bail. I lost it all, but survived with a lesson in life. I vowed that no one is ever going to make that money on my signature, except me. " he said as we found the ball about five meters away from the second hole.

He continued,"These politicians, they come and go. They tell you they have a project, and it would be good for the country, and they have some budget for the boys, for so long as I sign on the dotted line. I've managed to dodge these proposals, not even when they brandish those legal opinions from those bastards in the legal department. Hah -- those lawyers will never go to jail for writing a stupid opinion. But people like me who made government a career will do, especially when the new politicians take over. And you know what? They have all been sued. If I have not been as careful, I would have ended up exactly as the first time. I've outlived them all in my department, and I've managed to stay away from the lawsuits. Remember this kid: Never stick your neck out for anybody." and we stopped as he aimed his putt.

"It's such a lonely world," I told myself as his golf ball rolled into the hole.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Who are the people in your neighborhood?Mr. Finance Guy

"Tell me attorney, how do you make money?" and my imagined conversation over tall bottles of wine with the finance guy takes off to a trembling start.

I replied, "I don't make money. Money is a by-product of what I do. I sit in my office, and somebody calls me for help. Sometimes I'm required to attend a hearing, draft a contract, or simply answer a question. And the money comes. Sometimes it doesn't, but I don't usually mind. God has made sure that I get a balance of those calls from the payers and the non-payers. So if you're wondering how I make money, I don't. It comes. How about you Mr. Finance Guy, how do you make money?"

And he proudly declared, "I make money on money."

I gave him the blank look, as if to ask what he meant.

He said, "People come to me because they need money. I lend them my money but they have to get back to me with my money and some more money. You want to build a house attorney? I will lend you the money to build it. But you have to come back and pay me principal plus interest, or your house is mine, so I can sell it and get back my money plus interest. Get my drift?"

I nodded. He then added, "Some people come to me, because they are starting a business, and they need money to put it up. I give them my money. But they have to promise me that they're going to make profits by running it well. If they don't, I give them hell. But usually they do. So, I don'r just get interests but dividends, sometimes I get more.I make money on money. Get it?"

"I don't like you," was all I could say.

"Does it matter ?" he asked.

"Of course not. You're the guy who pays," and we each downed another glass of wine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

An (Ex?)Activist Learns Golf

Red, my law partner, and I have decided to learn golf. This announcement will surely come as a surprise to people who once knew me as an activist of sorts, or at least, a proponent of alternative lifestyles. Whatever happened to the cause of the oppressed? But before they condemn me as a sellout to the establishment, let me tell them why I have taken this inevitable turn in my sports life.

First, I have come to realize that I will never become a basketball superstar. Thirty four years of shooting the hoops hasn’t gotten me anywhere. I have yet to win a championship in any of the leagues that I joined, not even in the neighborhood ligas in my boyhood Barangay Quirino 2-B in Quezon City. My best finish ever was fourth place overall, and it ended with me shooting and missing a couple of free throws that could have been the winning shots for my team. That’s a highlight by the way, because most of the time, I was warming the bench.

I still play basketball, most of the time with my kids in our garage. But my sons, Juancho and Hans, have gotten better at it that I end up losing in our shootouts, and get heckled at by these babies. "Tell me Tatay who's the hotshot?," they jeer me 'til bed time. Indeed, as Kobe Bryant knows by now, losing stinks. The message is clear. Basketball is going to be just a spectator sport for me. I can try jolens or I can try golf.

Second, in this country, golf is not a sport, it’s a trade. There is a story that the biggest corporate takeover in the last few years involving the acquisition of the controlling stake in PLDT, the crown jewel of the Philippine corporate world, was sealed in the golf course. And there have been countless times that golfing clients called me in the middle of their games about documents that I needed to immediately draw up to seal a transaction they closed while playing golf. There was one occasion that I had to bring documents for signing in the seventh hole, and I looked odd in my white barong and leather shoes, documents in tow, braving the heat in the middle of the green. And to golfing professionals, a deal as big as the PLDT sale is just one of many deals that can happen in a day. And you see them smiling at you as you come to the green in your business attire, deed of sale in your hand, wondering how much money you make running after golfing businessmen. You could actually hear Rod Stewart singing “Some guys have all the …”

Third, it feels good to whack a ball with a club. Try it with your broomstick and your left shoe. For the most part of my life, I have lived a non-violent life. What's the Mahatma Gandhi word ? -- ahimsa or active non-violence. Whenever confronted with over-bearing clients who think they are God’s gifts to my firm, I smile at them and bill them like they were indeed God’s gifts to my firm. I have managed to remain polite with associates who couldn't get their subjects to agree with their verbs. I have been patient with corrupt judges and continue to address them as “your honor” -- although sometimes, in my left brain the syllable “dis” is spoken allowed, as in “Your (dis)Honor.” Prosecutors, who come unprepared in hearings and ask for repeated postponements, take some heat from me, especially when my clients are languishing in jail. But at the end of each tirade, I manage to shake their hands, and tell them, it’s not their fault, but the system’s. These people deserve a whack. But my education restrains me a lot. So, you can imagine the catharsis I get whenever I whack a ball with a club, and it flies way up in the air without complaint, obedient as I have been to the “slings and arrows of outrageous” people. Imagination has its rewards.

In my mind, I still am an activist and a proponent of alternative lifestyles. Most of the causes that I fought for have been lost, some of them I believe, have been abandoned and left for me alone to carry on. I still feel for the oppressed. But age makes you a little less agile, a little less angry, a little less sad, a little more playful, a little more open to the ways of leisure, and a little more creative in your protests. And I don’t know how. But as I approach middle age, with club and ball in hand, I vow to keep the lost causes of my life. Who can possibly tell? Maybe golf can bring the championships I never won? I’d be okay, though, if at least, golf would come with the accounts that I never had -- the San Miguel takeover would be fine, thank you. But the real treat is when I hit the space between the ground and the ball, and the ball bellows as it flies up in the air with the faces of the assholes of my day.