Jude Josue Sabio .
THE “Totoong Narcolist Videos” caused a wave of national discord and discourse. When Malacanang’s matrix hit the news, a fire of controversy especially in the media erupted. In the aftermath of the publication of such matrix by Dante Ang himself in the Manila Times, his editor resigned in protest, decrying such matrix as illegitimate news. It is only one among several high profile conflicts whipped up in the heat of the dispute.
As a lawyer, I was almost burned by the fire of the cause celebre. On 29 April 2019, ex-senator Trillanes personally met me together with his lady staff at the Novotel Hotel in Cubao, Quezon City. As usual, my wife Jo ann A. Fortich was with me.
In the meeting at the hotel lobby, I told Sen. Trillanes to refrain and desist from Bikoy, because it is just a trap, apart from the dire lack of funds even for the ongoing ICC case. Jo ann also told him: “Sir, wag mong itutuloy yan, babagsak ka nyan at di ka na makakabangon.”
That meeting was unusually turbulent. In the few times before in the past more than two years, our meeting had been uneventful. This was markedly different, because Jo ann, for the first time at one point and to my consternation and disbelief, spoke out in a very loud voice against the senator, angrily pointing an accusing finger at him and shedding tears as she lambasted him.
And yet, she was not personally angry with the senator. I had the feeling that she was conveying a dire ominous message like an oracle in antiquity portending of a terrible event to come. Those tears, which were never shed before in the few times that we personally met the senator, underlined a potent portentous prophecy against Bikoy.
That meeting culminates the senator’s actual effort to recruit me as a lawyer for Bikoy, which was first expressed to me on 23 April 2019 through a viber text by his close-in security/staff Jonnel Sangalang.
The text caught me by surprise, because I had absolutely no idea about the senator’s involvement with Bikoy. Jonnel Sangalang represented to me that Bikoy had “handlers” to whom I would be recommended to be his lawyer, and that my task would be to submit a complaint with the Ombudsman following Bikoy’s public revelation that he would soon surface.
I was lucky when a twist of the hand of fate,which I consider as a blessing in disguise, intervened to spare me from the disaster that had befallen instead later on the Flag and IBP lawyers. Two days later or on 25 April 2019, Jonnel Sangalang contacted me again through viber, asking me: “Atty, updated ba ang license mo? After that MCLE?” At that time, he said that he was in a meeting with the supposed “handlers.”
I diligently responded to him by text, stating that an MCLE deficiency, which is just a matter of compliance, does not affect my license as a lawyer, as lawyers are not required to renew their license which is lifetime. Still, he would not believe me, saying “Seriously, really?” obviously in reference to that earlier egregious Warrant of Arrest against me which had been voided by the Court of Appeals on 29 March 2019.
After some thought, I was jolted by the absurdity: I was being recruited to be a lawyer and yet here I was being asked if my license as a lawyer is updated. Beginning to feel an insult and affront on my profession, I began to react negatively, resulting into a nasty exchange of texts between Jonnel and me and causing a lot of emotional distress.
In an effort to placate me, Sen. Trillanes through his lady staff proposed an immediate meeting with me the following day or on 26 April 2019, but I declined, because I was still very much emotionally upset. The senator proposed a meeting instead on 29 April 2019 at Novotel which was the venue later chosen by him. But in the meantime, the damage had become hopelessly irreparable.
In the Novotel meeting, the senator asked me what was wrong about that innocent question coming from a non-lawyer. I presume that question came from him but coursed through his staff Jonnel. According to him, I could just have answered without much ado, but I rejected the senator’s explanation, telling him that the question should never have been asked in the first place.
I told him that they could have conducted due diligence about my lawyer’s license or the license of any lawyer for that matter by asking other lawyers, the IBP, the Supreme Court or the MCLE Committee – but certainly not me. I wonder if a patient would ever go to a doctor for a medical consultation, and dare to ask the doctor if his medical license is updated.
Like any other lawyer who worked hard in law school, for five years in my case as an evening working student in the UP College of Law, not to mention the Bar exams, to earn that lifetime license from the Supreme Court, I rebuffed the Senator, as I deemed the question to be insulting and offensive to me and the whole legal profession.
Although the senator expressed a lame apology for his staff Jonnel, as if the question did not come from him directly, my lawyering for Bikoy was already out of the question.
At the conclusion of that rocky meeting, the Senator’s parting words were: “Sundan na lang ang susunod na kabanata,” which to me were a defiant, firm affirmation of his dogged, grim determination to carry on with Bikoy and reflective of his unwavering belief in Bikoy.
True enough, one week after that meeting, obviously in a bid to influence the outcome of the elections, Bikoy identifying himself as Peter Joemel Advincula held, on 6 May 2019, a solo press conference at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national office.
Although Bikoy was not accompanied by a lawyer, as he still had no lawyer then, the use of the IBP premises lent a weighty air of legitimacy and credence to his press conference. It must have created the popular belief that the national organization of lawyers was backing him.
But matters came to a head when Sen. Sotto, in his press conference, in no time revealed that Bikoy had a similar statement way back in 2016 containing the same narrative against LP personalities including Ninoy Aquino, Mar Roxas and Leila de Lima. This revelation must have doused cold water on fire. As if the fire were extinguished, the IBP declined legal assistance to Bikoy, on the pretext that he failed to qualify.
That was the beginning of the end for Bikoy and his “handlers.” The final nail on the coffin came when Sen. Lacson abruptly recalled his decision to undertake a Senate probe, which must have earlier given Bikoy and his handlers a strong boost of morale.
Not long after the May elections, in a press conference at the PNP Headquarters, Bikoy made a surprise complete turnaround: he disavowed the “Totoong Narcolist Videos” calling them fabricated.
This was eventually followed last July by the PNP criminal charges with the DOJ, an ongoing case, on the basis of Bikoy’s statement, against ex-senator Trillanes, Jonnel Sangalang, and Fr. Albert Alejo S.J., among many others.
Like in the celebrated case of the young peasant girl Joan of Arc whose prophetic words the French King at first refused to heed, Jo ann’s words again proved to be highly prophetic and will resonate into the future: the cause celebre is an abyss with no hope of return.