Teddy is the first and only Filipino to be installed as a Chartered Arbitrator as well as certified as an Accredited Mediator by CIArb. He is also the first and only Filipino Fellow and diplomate in both international commercial arbitration and mediation of CIArb. As a commercial arbitrator, he has or is presently serving as chair, member, or sole arbitrator in domestic and international tribunals that to date cumulatively involve nearly 33.8 Billion Pesos in claims.
As a mediator within his role as a family business governance counsellor for the Institute of Corporate Directors of the Philippines (where he has been a trustee since 2012), he has assisted in resolving governance and succession concerns involving as many as four family generations and over fifty separate clan members.
He was the President of the Philippine Institute of Arbitrators (PIArb) in 2014 and 2015 and then the Chair of its Board of Trustees from 2016 to 2017, after previously serving for half a decade as the founding Executive Vice-President of that Institute. In such capacity, he has lectured or presented on various aspects of alternative dispute resolution not only in the Philippines but also throughout the ASEAN region and East Asia. He is presently a President Emeritus of PIArb as well as the Chapter Warden of the Philippine Chapter of the CIArb East Asia Branch headquartered in Hong Kong.
1. As a Chartered Arbitrator, you already have an established career in international arbitration, what was your motivation to develop and specialise in mediation?
In my other career as a family business governance counsellor for the Institute of Corporate Directors, I soon began to get offers to mediate intra-corporate disputes involving families in business when my clients find out or already know that I am also a professional neutral. While mediation was and continues to be an easier sell compared to arbitration because the parties often prioritize preserving relationships in such contexts, engaging professional mediators voluntarily (i.e. outside court-annexed systems) is almost unheard of among families engaged in business. Parties are often surprised when I offer a facilitative approach when provided with such queries, so I can say from experience that being a dispute resolver in both disciplines gives me much more flexibility in my various professional roles. Ironically, my being more known as an arbitrator has led to almost all my mediation assignments as no one else engaged in corporate governance here in the Philippines is doing what I do within the discipline.
2. What do you consider to be the most important skills for a commercial mediator?
In my view, easily the three most important skills that mediators should develop are the ability to listen, openness and tenacity in exploring interests and options, and keep confidences as a general rule. Listening skills are the foundation for getting parties to build and eventually find their own solutions. You must not only get the narrative of each party but also satisfy that party that you have indeed heard his or her full “story”. Enduring settlements cannot often be achieved without fully exploring the interests underlying each position, so it really helps if the mediator is both creative and willing to keep going when deadlocks occur particularly by asking searching questions. I also find it important to always bear in mind during private caucuses to know what I can and cannot disclose during joint sessions, hence I keep my notes for both categories separate just to make sure.
3. What would you recommend to someone considering a career in mediation?
For those in my country, I always provide the same two important points of advice. The best way to get mediation engagements is to start early, as it can be a long and winding road as professional mediation has yet to really take off here. You can then eventually create your own practice niche by offering your mediation skills to complement your primary professional roles. In other words, if you are engaged in some professional manner in the construction or the maritime industry, then such sectors are where you should begin promoting yourself because you already have the network of contacts that not only respect you but will also give you a shot because of your reputation in your primary professional role. Your practice niche can snowball from there.
In contrast, I have seen far too many budding new mediators in my country readily sign up with a local commercial service provider here for so-called mediation training so that they can be accredited by the latter and supposedly get appointments, only to subsequently discover that almost nobody uses that service provider. So instead of getting appointed, these promising practitioners effectively get DISappointed.
4. What do you consider to be your biggest achievement in the field of ADR thus far?
From the perspective of creating value and promoting the profession, I am most proud of co-founding the Philippine Institute of Arbitrators (PIArb), effectively so far the only local learned society focused on advocating for and building the discipline of ADR in all its approaches in my country’s context, as compared to being an ADR service provider. I think what makes the introduction of PIArb in the local context ground-breaking is that we reframed how the profession should be developed from one where practitioners were focused on monopolizing a small pie of engagements to a much more inclusive space that highlights that while more professional neutrals mean more choices for users, the former will get more work opportunities because of the bigger pie of engagements created by a larger community of the latter who come to find ADR more cost-effective, practical, and comfortable because of the larger pool of capable professional neutrals. Locally, it has become a virtuous circle in arbitration, and I hope that eventually will be the case in mediation.
PIArb has also opened up opportunities that were not available when I was starting out. To highlight just one example, because of our joint strategic partnership with the Lyceum of the Philippines University, I am currently heading the process of designing and implementing the first graduate degree in professional dispute resolution in the Southeast Asian region.
On a personal level, what I do find most professionally fulfilling was the day I became the first Filipino to be installed as a Chartered Arbitrator back in 2015. While quite a long process climaxing with probably one of toughest peer panel interviews I had (and probably will ever have) to go through, on looking back I would do it again without hesitation.
5. What do you consider as the biggest challenge for the ADR in the future?
Internationally, I look forward to the day when we can develop systems to really promote diversity in ADR appointments by providing prospective users a truly global platform to identify, review, and select professional neutrals that best meet their conflict resolution needs. We are nowhere close to being there yet, but I believe technological and regulatory innovations will potentially allow us to eventually achieve such a state in the future. To really evolve, I hope CIArb can lead the way in promoting two positive developments for the discipline. First, international service providers should truly make an effort to identify future stars in the profession early, so that they can be cultivated by diversifying appointments. As it is today, practitioners in jurisdictions that are not on the beaten trail have to do a massive amount of self-promotion just to get noticed, even though such candidates are just as qualified in terms of training and experience as their peers in more developed economies. Secondly, as a profession we must begin the dialogue of reframing the basis of our discipline from being an “alternative” to litigation to being a just as significant, if not the primary, mode of resolving private disputes.
6. How has a membership with the CIArb benefitted your career?
Beginning my dispute resolution career by becoming a member of the Institute is probably one of the best career moves I have made for three big reasons. First, it immediately linked me with a network of practitioners and academics in the discipline even though ADR had yet to take off in my own country. Secondly, it has and continues to provide training, content, and best practice benchmarks I can immediately use and which have significantly shaped not just what I know about the field but – perhaps more significantly – how I practice my discipline. Finally, my affiliation with the Institute has provided me with a foundation for professional credibility that I would have been substantially challenged to build just on my own.
7. What is the best thing about being the Chartered Arbitrator of CIArb?
I must admit at the start it was the self-validation from achieving the status. Four years on, it has become the key feature of my arbitration practice. Simply put, among my credentials it is one of those that best sells itself because of how it uniquely positions me as a professional neutral, not just in the Philippines but even more within the Southeast Asian region.
8. Tell us about your interests, hobbies or any out of work activities.
I am truly fortunate to have the passion and the opportunities to develop a diverse professional practice in four areas: sustainable governance, real and intellectual property law, private dispute resolution, and Philippine heritage. What I find most fulfilling professionally is when I cross networks to apply my skills from one discipline in another setting, like pitching arbitration to corporate directors or integrating the teaching of sustainability in citizenship and Philippine history. I am in the process of completing my Ph.D. dissertation in governance studies at the University of the Philippines involving three of these areas. I promised my wife Bunny that such would be my seventh and last academic degree. Obviously, I would not be able to do what I do without such total support from her and my daughter Raphaella, who somehow manage to keep tolerating not just these pursuits but all the books and materials that pile up along the way.
9. Tell us a short war story from your arbitration or mediation experience.
Perhaps my wackiest (and for purposes of this interview, unique in that proceedings were public) engagement to date was recently serving as Chair of the Election Commission to oversee the special election of the Philippine Olympic Committee just this year. Internal wrangling seriously threatened my country’s participation in the regional games this year and summer Olympics next year, so it was crucial that a special election be called to close this dispute. I was appointed essentially because of three reasons: First, I have no involvement in sports. Second, all parties were comfortable with me as Chair. Third, it certainly helped that I am the only local who is a CIArb Chartered Arbitrator. I am glad that we then proceeded to have credible, transparent, and fair elections that effectively concluded the matter.