US-based Filipinos affected by Duterte remarks

SPYBITS - The Philippine Star

We received dozens of emails from our US-based Filipino readers who said that while they are very much supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte, they were also “saddened” and “embarrassed” by the expletives he issued in reference to US President Barack Obama. Many admitted they are “very much affected” by the negative worldwide media attention, particularly with international news networks like CNN and Fox News repeating the comments of President Duterte.

Former state secretary Hillary Clinton, whose last visit to the country was in November 2011 to reaffirm the strong ties between the US and the Philippines, said it was appropriate for the White House to cancel the scheduled bilateral meeting between Obama and Duterte following the “insult,” and that while it is important to maintain relations, there has to be “a certain level of respect that is expected on both sides.”

Even Clinton’s rival Donald Trump – whose remarks about the Philippines being a “terrorist nation” angered Filipinos and prompted a lawmaker to propose a resolution that would ban him from the Philippines – also issued a snarky comment, calling the remarks “terrible.” As noted by US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, “words matter,” and it is important to have “an atmosphere that is cordial and open to strong cooperation.”

Despite damage control from the Palace with a statement saying Duterte expressed regrets over the remarks, there has been a negative backlash as seen in the cancellation of the previously scheduled bilateral meeting between the two leaders.

Obviously, Americans do not take the harsh words made about their president very lightly, and many of them have reacted with anger over what they perceived as an attack – resulting in strained relations with Filipino-Americans or Philippine-born US citizens. An estimated four million Fil-Ams are scattered across America, with every other Filipino likely to have a relative somewhere in the US. Judging from the 1,000 visa applications received by the US Embassy in Manila, there is no question the US continues to be a very important country for many Filipinos.

Investor turn-off

An American associate told me that investors are having more second thoughts about doing business in the Philippines following the “unfortunate” remarks by President Duterte against US officials starting with Ambassador Philip Goldberg, US State Secretary John Kerry and now, President Barack Obama. But a major source of complaint is the continuing perception about the unreliability of the judiciary and corruption among judges especially in the issuance of temporary restraining orders or TROs. In fact, even before he formally assumed office, President Duterte had already warned against these “for sale” TROs that have caused insurmountable delays for important infrastructure projects.

A couple of years ago, Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno spoke out against these “hoodlums in robes” and even asked lawyers to name names instead of just whispering about the corrupt practices. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear about whistleblowers coming out to expose the corruption in the judiciary, most probably because there are not enough incentives like for instance, administrative amnesty and immunity from suit.

Recently, however, there was a complaint filed before the Supreme Court against a certain Judge Francisco Mendiola by an individual involved in an estate dispute, alleging the judge has acted with manifest impartiality, bias and impropriety. The complainant cited the Court of Appeals’ 11th Division ruling that said Judge Mendiola acted with grave abuse of discretion relative to the said dispute.

According to the complainant, the judge exhibited “gross ignorance of the law” in the conduct of the proceedings and issued orders “contrary to law and jurisprudence.” Sources told us this is the same judge who had allegedly been issuing “questionable” TROs in a decade-long case involving Cathay Pacific (CX) and People’s Air Cargo and Warehousing Inc. or Paircargo, a local cargo handling contractor.

Apparently, the local cargo company resorted to “legal bullying” to prevent CX from terminating its services and getting another contractor to handle the cargo requirements of the Hong Kong-based airline back in 2004. Paircargo insisted the contract with CX is still good for another three years (2007) and proceeded to get a writ of injunction from the court that ordered the parties to maintain the status quo while the case is being heard.

Logically, the contract between Paircargo and CX should have ended in 2007, but Paircargo claimed the contract has been extended for another 10 years. The exhausting legal battle saw CX agreeing to a compromise agreement allowing Paircargo to continue providing services until March 31, 2016. But lo and behold – the local handler went running to its “favorite” judge after it lost in a bidding earlier, alleging violations to the agreement to get the new service contract.

Observers familiar with the case allege the presiding judge had been showing partiality and bias in favor of Paircargo, and giving CX a difficult time by giving it one day to reply to comments filed by the other party, or refusing to grant reasonable requests to allow additional witnesses to be presented by the airline. What also followed were delays upon delays either because the judge is unavailable or hearings were cancelled upon the motion of Paircargo. Last we heard, Judge Mendiola issued an order indefinitely suspending the proceedings – upon the motion of Paircargo.

Clearly, legal bullying such as the one being experienced by Cathay Pacific is not encouraging for potential investors.

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