My partner got one over me so I need your help
Even then, I knew I would eventually settle here. Over the next two decades, I was able to get myself reassigned here two more times – the last time, I was attached to the US embassy in Manila.
In 2001, after a 20-year career, I retired from the Air Force and took up residence in Makati. I really felt like I had come home. Within a few months I was hired by Oakwood Makati, where I worked as security manager for the next 4 years. I was the guy in charge of security when 321 Magdalo soldiers seized control in 2003, in the famous Oakwood mutiny.
In early 2006, my best friend and I started a company that provided English speaking lessons. Our goal was to provide English training to young Filipinos, and to help them find good jobs, especially in the call center industry.
I left my job at Oakwood, and poured all my money, all my effort, and all my heart, into our new company.
Foolishly, I didn't ask my friend to put our partnership in writing, thinking first that trusted friends didn't need such things, and second that the company registration would clearly show our equal partnership.
Since I was still working at Oakwood right up to the time we started the company, my partner took care of all the registration paperwork. Trusting her, and expecting her to be honest, was the worst mistake of my life.
To make a long story short, my partner registered the company in the names of her and her relatives, omitting my name altogether.
Of course, we fought about this immediately, and I demanded that my name be added to the registration. But I had no power, and no real proof at the time, to do it myself.
Even an owner of a company, if he's a foreigner, needs an employment visa, and mine was sponsored by our company, and signed by her, who had appointed herself president. As I quickly found out, that was something she could use against me.
When our arguments about ownership became too intense, she cancelled my visa. It turns out she had documented me as a consultant, and not as a partner, and again, I blindly let that happen.
After exhausting all efforts to resolve our dispute in a business-like manner, I filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission. After a year of hearings and affidavits, the SEC ruled that they had no jurisdiction over this kind of thing. They told me I should file a case in civil court. Another year wasted.
So now it's in court, and my case is strong. Although we didn't sign a partnership contract, Philippine law addresses this, in a beautiful line that says: “When two people act as co-partners, a contract of co-partnership is deemed to exist."
I've presented a lot of evidence to show that we acted as partners over the years. Our original company website showed both of us as founding partners and co-owners of the company. The same with the company profile, which we distributed to customers throughout the Philippines.
My friend also signed and sent marketing letters by the dozens, always referring to me as co-founder and partner. Since we were in the business of selling American English training, she always tried to present me as the "American" face of the company.
After we went to court, my partner changed the website and company profile, but I have copies of everything.
I also have a stack of emails she sent me over the years, in which she makes statements like "Mike, we started the company together," "Mike, you still own shares of the company," and "Mike, you are a partner in the company."
And best of all, I have an email from her, in which she admits that she faked the corporate registration!
So, in the end, there are only two possibilities – either I really am a partner in the company, or else this friend of mine intentionally deceived both me and our customers into believing that I was a partner.
But my partner wasn't done with the dirty tricks. Instead of fighting me in court with facts and evidence, she filed a bogus complaint with the Bureau of Immigration, claiming that I had threatened her and that I was working without a visa.
The so-called threats are entirely a product of her imagination. The work she complained about was actually volunteer activity with MMDA. As a retired law enforcement officer in the Air Force, I was helping them improve traffic management in Metro Manila.
Immigration initially dismissed the case, ruling that volunteer work was not "employment". But somehow my former partner got the case reopened, and in October last year I was found guilty, arrested, and deported. The country I loved, the country I called home, kicked me out.
The cases I filed to regain my company are still ongoing, and I'm close to winning. But now I'm fighting from abroad. When we started the company, I invested every penny I had into it, and my former partner refuses to return that money.
I have a great lawyer who's been very lenient about demanding payment, but he can't keep that up forever. So as humiliating as it is, I've been forced to launch a campaign on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo, to help me raise money to pay my legal bills. You can read more of my story here.
Despite everything, I still love the Philippines, and I still want to live and work there. I had originally intended to make my company a force for good, training jobseekers and helping them find work, and I still want to do that. I am very good at that. I just need a little help to reach the finish line. – Rappler.com
Michael Brown is a retired member of the US Air Force, with over 16 years in the Philippines. He writes on English, traffic management, and law enforcement issues.