"That was plain and simple bad faith."


I got hold of a copy of the letter written last Jan. 11 by Cagayan de Oro lawyer Jude Sabio to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In that letter, with the assistance of my good friend Atty. Larry Gadon, Atty. Sabio withdrew his 77-page communication to the ICC in April 2017 endorsing the investigation of President Duterte over the issue of “extrajudicial killings.”

Sabio’s letter is awash with the indignation of one betrayed. His sentiments are pretty clear: “I condemn the betrayal of the truth and justice by Senator (Antonio) Trillanes and Fr (Albert) Alejo, SJ, and their allies in the LP-led opposition including Senator (Leila) de Lima and Vice President Leni Robredo, who thereby lost the legitimacy and moral upper hand in the advocacy against extrajudicial killings.”

As best this layman could make it out, the following are the main reasons behind Sabio’s ire:

Trillanes insisted on trying to recruit Sabio to lawyer for Peter Advincula, aka “Bikoy,” the unseen narrator on the “Tutoong Narcolists” video linking Duterte to the drug trade, even if Trillanes at that time already knew that Bikoy wasn’t a truthful witness. That was plain and simple bad faith. As it turned out, Bikoy eventually recanted, together with similar witnesses Edgar Matobato and Guillermina Barrido.

No evidence has ever been presented for the veracity of that “Tutoong Narcolists” video. As an Ateneo law school graduate, what especially rankles Sabio is the alleged involvement of the Ateneo Communications Center in the production of that video.

Trillanes failed to pay Sabio’s requested legal fees. As the man on the street might say, “suwitik na nga, balasubas pa.

Sabio has since gone on to flatly state that Duterte is innocent of the allegations brought against him. In this respect, he’s parted ways with Fr Alejo, a Jesuit priest whose “crusade against the drug war” the yellow media outlet Rappler repeatedly gushed over last year.

The good father may also wish to reexamine the kind of company he chooses to keep. Sabio says he first wrote to ICC “as an independent lawyer advocating for justice, and not politics.” Now that Sabio has come to his senses and cut his ties with the yellow crowd, Fr Alejo and other like-minded activists might consider doing the same as well. If they didn’t know any better back then, they really ought to by now.

For its part, the ICC says they will still press on with their preliminary investigation of Duterte despite Sabio’s retraction. Why they’ve chosen to ignore him--as well as what else they may have against the President, now that Sabio has decamped—has not been disclosed. Absent that, one can be forgiven for thinking that the ICC—for all its hauteur, and for reasons of its own that are probably ideological—just wants to continue hanging out with the same bad crowd.

* * *

Our weekly news roundup brings some positive developments on the telecoms side—congratulations, DICT Secretary Honasan!—and a seeming investment paradox.

Honasan will be benefiting from several breakthroughs on the private-sector side of his Cabinet portfolio:

The new third telco, Dito Telecommunity (a cute rebrand of the generic term), has agreed with the League of Municipalities of the Philippines to provide its members—all of our local government units—with their own dedicated nationwide private fiber optic network. Of course, whether or not Dito can actually deliver—given the reported shallowness of its local talent bench—is something Honasan should bird-dog.

Singapore-based Tonik Financial was awarded the first-ever, digital-only, totally branchless banking license by the Bangko Sentral. Tonik should do well in the Philippine market—where the median age is only 24 years, Internet usage is high, over 70 percent of people are still unbanked, and over half of all banking customers have expressed willingness to switch their deposits to a pure-play digital bank.

Another disruptive technology is forthcoming from property mortgage broker Nook Inc., which will offer an end-to-end online platform, covering everything from property search to loan approval. Initially based on their Website, the platform will soon be delivered from a mobile app. Their banking partners include BDO, BPI Family, RCBC, Security Bank—clearly a blue-chip list.

On the macro investment side, recent stories present a seemingly conflicted outlook for the country this year—that is, unless you take note of the different markets involved in each story.

Among a hundred mid-sized companies surveyed by Grant Thornton, business optimism registered at 67 percent in the second half of last year—among the 10 highest in the world, but still well below the 84 percent registered in the first half. Lower revenue and profit expectations as well as slowdown in exports accounted for a lot of the decline.

Among foreign investors, net inflows dropped by 33 percent in the first 10 months of 2019, largely due to a sluggish world economy as well as uncertainty over the passage of CITIRA, the second tax reform package. The expected passage of CITIRA in this quarter should improve the outlook.

But over at BOI, investment project approvals reached P1.14 trillion last year, breaching the trillion peso mark for the first time, and marking the third consecutive year of posting record investment levels. DTI Secretary Lopez is looking forward to a 10-percent increase this year. Closing the distance between (higher) approvals and (lower) actual inflows will depend a lot on the outcomes of various controversies now embroiling several large local conglomerates, and how these outcomes affect assessments by both foreign and domestic investors of their contractual and regulatory risks.

* * *

Abroad, the big news of course was the signing of a historic trade agreement between the United States and China, defusing a trade war that’s lasted a year and a half. It’s reportedly the biggest deal since the US-China Relations Act of 2000, on Bill Clinton’s watch. China has pledged to buy an additional $200 billion of American goods over the next two years, while the US agreed to halve or eliminate tariffs on a wide range of Chinese exports, mostly consumer electronics.

This breakthrough on Trump’s watch comes on the heels of Iran backing away from its threat of “severe reprisal” for the assassination of General Qassam Soleimani. Nobody was hurt in their retaliatory missile attacks on US bases in Iraq, except for the tragic shooting-down by mistake of a civilian airliner that took a lot of steam out of their pugnacity. With these back-to-back wins, one might be forgiven for thinking that Trump—for all the liberal left rhetoric against him, especially abroad—may know a thing or two, after all.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Jude Sabio , Larry Gadon , International Criminal Court , The Hague , Peter Advincula
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