KEEP IN mind that this title does not fully define who you are; you are more than your degrees. They are your masks. Behind these masks is an authentic human being whose achievements were made possible by the presence and support of others.
Many others have been there for you who are easy to overlook, the food servers you bothered when you reviewed, the men and women who cleaned after you. Treat them well. Please go back to them and say thank you.
The Bar is merely a qualifying exam, it does not determine how good a lawyer you will be and not your measure as a person.
This pandemic will make people go poor, lose their jobs, and seeing children go hungry will lead to acts of desperation. Law will take part in the narrative in providing succor and remedies when needed.
It is this generation where we witness a wave of conservative populism that is gaining ground worldwide. You see the challenges to the institutions that gather and speak truth to power. Journalists worldwide suffer because they seek to verify and validate the truth.
Even those who seek truth to power on social media feel what it’s like to be shamed and cyber bullied.
The quality of our democracy determines the quality of our laws.
We can ignore all of these, it is tempting to simply exist, just get rich, do our thing. But we have a choice, to find the courage, seek the discomfort and critically examine our society and use our profession for a greater purpose.
The rule of law is always the rule of just law; your oath to the rule of law is not a license to marginalize those who are already disadvantaged.
You do not need to look far for these ideals, your Constitution mentions human dignity and human rights. It constitutes all people as sovereign, capable of demanding accountability, disclosure and space for freedom of information that does not stifle, but shapes opinion.
Being a lawyer is not about you. It has a design of making the problems of others your problems.
Use your profession to shape laws so that they authentically contribute to the achievement of the best society for all human beings.
But it will not be easy. Even when you have an attorney to your name, it will not be easy, even when people call you Justice, it will not be easy.
Often you will choose whether to put your career on the line. It takes a huge amount of courage and the same amount of conviction to do what may seem unpopular, dangerous, inconvenient, but right.
Our silence, when we fall victim or after we serve as accomplices to corrupt acts of the powerful, is also our own powerful political act. Our silence maintains the status quo. It ensures that others will also be victimized.
Our silence in the face of abuse skews power to the system in favor of those with resources and against those who need the law more. Our silence legitimizes greed and undermines the power of public trust.
Silence about corruption and abuse of power is not only in itself unjust. Our silence, when we have the ability to speak is in itself a cause of injustice.
Of what use is the palatial home, the latest car, the designer coffee, the swanky fashion bags and clothes when all these have been purchased on the backs of others’ suffering? Of what use is our convenience when our people live in squalor? Of what use are the accolades and the brocades when we do nothing while the farmers’ or fishers’ family become hungry?
Doing the right thing is necessary because of the poverty, oppression, and helplessness of many in the society. There are families that live in squalor; there are children who cannot eat three square meals a day; there are those who live through oppression; there are children raped by their fathers and uncles; or put in danger by the very schools that would provide them with safe spaces; there are those robbed of their youth by dangerous drugs; there are those whose identities make them invisible.
“The line of fire is always a place of honor (Alejandro, 1987).”
Protect those who have less in life. Do not stand for abuse. Be accepting of different identities. Speak up against corruption. Do not succumb to having more than enough. Do not trade kindness for the false badges of success. When you enter public office, discharge it for the public trust that it is. Do not temper principle with pragmatism. Do not hide behind comfortable acquiescence. Do not use comfort in lieu of integrity at critical times. Do not disguise your complicity. Instead, be at the frontlines.
As a lawyer, resist injustice. Make it your passion, to resist injustice. Strive for excellence, not only in order to get you more titles, not to land yourself in Top 10 lists of lawyers. Strive for excellence, because you need excellence with honor to enable and empower the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
Remain humble. Listen and learn. It is wisdom in the difficulties of our people. These are your responsibilities. There is a lot to be done out there.
Finally, if there is anything, remember this: Be better than us. Walang magpapalaya sa atin kung hindi tayo mismo. Humayo nang buong giting at tapang. Paglingkuran ang sambayanan!”
(Speech to the new lawyers of the Philippines who took their oath on June 25, 2020)