Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ritual of the Word

(On the occasion of the blessing of APVLAW’s new office at the 31st F Atlanta Center 31 Annapolis St. Greenhills, San Juan)

When the partners and I went up this building in August this year, this place was a bare shell. No walls, no ceilings, no lights, but we had a spectacular view of the sun, sea and sky. Right there and then, we made a decision: APVLAW will hold office in this place.

At that time, the partners, Noel Punzalan, Steve Vehemente, Sonny Avila, Boyet del Prado and I did not know how and where to get the resources to build on this place. But we said the word, here, in this place, we will build our office. And God made the events conspire to make this day happen.

On the birthday of Mother Mary, September 8, 2008, APVLAW assisted our friends, who helped us get started way back in 2003 when APVLAW was just Aceron Law Office, JBY and JAB, in what is perhaps the biggest settlement in Philippine f-------- history. And may I say, we did not even have to send a demand letter to get what we wanted.

Of course, it was not enough. In October, I was contemplating on calling off the construction, but then our friends who supported us as far back as 2006, when APVLAW was Guerrero and Aceron Law Office, DNT and RGM, came to our rescue with a check and helped us complete the office.

And for that, we are forever indebted to these friends, JBY, JAB. DNT, RGM as well as our other friends who have been with us all these years. Thank you for your support. I always say we designed this office around the conference room to ensure that our friends and clients will always get the best view and the best seat.

I would like to mention, our partner in charge of physical plant, Steve Vehemente who took his title seriously and took a leave of absence from law practice for eight weeks to oversee the planning and building of this beautiful place. Thank you very much Steve, our work is not complete, but so far this has been excellent.

Today, December 18, 2008, marks the partial fulfillment of the words that the partners of APVLAW made in August this year. We said the word that here in this place we will build our new office and today we are now here. On behalf of the partners, let me now express what we want to do now that we’re here, and the task is at hand for us to complete.

Here, in this place, overlooking the sun, sea, and sky, we will keep the house of truth, justice, and love.

Here, in this place, facing the city that Quezon built, we will keep the brotherhood and honor among men.

Dito, sa bayan ng San Juan, pook ng Pinaglabanan, duyan ng magigiting na bayani, ipagtatanggol namin ang mga karapatan at papandayin ang kasaysayan ng bagong Pilipinas.

Here, in this place, beneath the moon and the stars, we will reach and renew our dreams, bring prosperity to our families, friends, our nation, and the world.

Here, in this place, underneath the great mountains and the clouds, we will bring glory to our families, glory to our nation, and glory to God.

December 18, 2008
Third Thursday of Advent

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Truth Behind the the "Tell the Truth" Incident at the Senate

Sometime on November 9, 2008, I dropped by for lunch at the Department of Agriculture ("DA") to greet Secretary Arthur C. Yap a "Happy Birthday". Art, is known to his stakeholders at the DA as "SACY" and known to me and my employees as "ACY". We have been working together on various capacities many years before he became Secretary of Agriculture. He has been a good friend. In November this year on his birthday, he told me to help out the Regional Directors of the DA, as JocJoc Bolante has arrived and the Senate is bound to call them for the continuation of the Fertilizer Scam Investigation.

Art's request was simple, "Retain lawyers to help the directors." Fee arrangements could be discussed but should not be an obstacle. I told him I was ready to help.

The directors present on that occasion asked me only one question, "Are you Bolante's lawyer too?" My response is of course, "No." We exchanged phone numbers and promised to call each other before the Senate investigation.

Thereafter, weeks before the Senate hearing, I signed up Atty. Gabby Enriquez, a veteran lawyer and my law partner, Atty. Sonny Avila, former Dean of Araullo Uoversity School of Law. Both worked together at Manalo Puno Law office and were members of the Sigma Rho Fraternity. They didn't ask about fees. When I mentioned the nature of the engagement, they said they were in, without asking for anything.

We didn't know how the Senate investigation would end up, but the clear strategy was make the directors comfortable and let them come up with the truth. The speculation was the directors were going to be involved in a cover-up. That is a stupid thing to do because the Commission on Audit (COA) had all the goods on Bolante and all the participants in this affair. Any attempt to cover up will only end up in a charge for "Perjury" or "Falsification".

During the Senate hearing, Senators Chiz Escudero, Alan Cayetano and Dick Gordon ganged up on Director Ric Oblena midway in the hearing. "Who ordered the change of the fund allocation for Kalibo, Aklan to an NGO?".

The manner of questioning was atrocious! It's the modern day Grand Inquisition with the Senators acting both as judge and inquisitor. In between questions, the Senators interjected threats, wisecracks, and other bullying tactics. The lawyers were helpless.

If this were a court hearing, I would have stood up to object, they were badgering the witness. But that was prohibited by the Senate rules. Then I looked at Dir. Oblena and wondered, the question appeared to be harmless. Why was he having a hard time?

I told Gabby to slip a note to remind Dir. Oblena it was pointless to withhold things. At first, Gabby didn't want to. I told him just do it. So Gabby took his business card and borrowed a pen from Dir. Roger Chio who was sitting in front. Gabby looked at me and I told him , "Tell the truth." On cue, Gabby scribbled the note, stood up, and gave it to Dir. Oblena.

Senator Gordon saw what happened and got irritated, a bit over-acting I suppose. He asked Gabby who he was. Who engaged him? He pointed to Sonny. We weren't prepared that our presence would be questioned, so I told Sonny to call me. I stood up and introduced myself.

Sen. Gordon asked who I worked for, "I'm a consultant of Secretary Yap."

"Who is paying you?"

"Nobody." I was thinking the Directors should be paying me, but I'm not billing them. But the truth is I don't care.

"That's weird" he said.

I told Senator Gordon, "I am from Ateneo, sir." He said he didn't care if I was from La Salle.

"Well, I mentioned that sir because it matters to me. My school taught me that money is not the be all and end all of my being a lawyer."

At this point, Senator Gordon said something like, "I will deal with you guys later. Let's see what's in the note."

Dir. Oblena, read the note -- a little increase in the pitch in his voice helped put some drama in the scene -- "Tell the truth."

"That's amazing!" Mister Senator Grand Inquisitor Gordon had nothing else to say.

At the end of the session, ABS-CBN gave a sinister slant to the incident by saying that Jocjoc Bolante were being primed up by the directors. "Nilalaglag na raw si Bolante." Sen. Pia Cayetano, who wasn't even there, said the directors were being told to do so in order to protect higher officials of the DA.

Another story is that at flip side of the card were the words, "Do not..." That one made me laugh.

I don't care what you guys say. But for the record, this is the true story behind the "Tell the Truth" incident.