Change versus continuity

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Sunday, February 20, 2011


TWO names will likely dominate the contest for the leadership of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu City chapter, which will hold its elections on Saturday.

Ian Sapayan may be an admitted outsider to the chapter’s leadership, but he has made his mark in the Young Lawyers’ Association of Cebu and other civic groups.

Earl Bonachita is a director of the IBP Cebu City chapter and has held various posts in the organization.

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What will the IBP be like under your administration?

Sapayan: (A city chapter) which has a different way of running things, consultation with different organizations and a focus on membership benefits.

What do we get from our membership in IBP now? When we become members of Club Ultima, we get membership benefits. What do we get from the IBP? None. I want to introduce reforms that will make the members feel their membership.

If the (province chapter) was able to give 50-percent discounts to its members in MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education) trainings in the past, why isn’t the city doing it? We will do that.

We can improve existing IBP facilities and offer it to members. We hear a lot of complaints from many lawyers on even the most basic things like the use of the comfort room. When you want to use it, you have to go to the secretary and get the key.

We plan to renovate the city chapter office and make it into a place where lawyers can sit and make full use of it, like a lounge.

Bonachita: I think it’s about time that I will be taking the cudgels since I have been serving the IBP for a long time. I’ve served the IBP for three terms and, since I am the insider in the IBP, I think I will be the best candidate to address the concerns of the members of the community.

I will be a sensitive president to members’ needs. I will constantly consult with the members, as we have been doing in the previous board. We will further the benefits for the members.

Among others, we will concentrate on the health program of the members because lawyers who have engaged in sports have met accidents and broken knees and limbs because of the sports. I think we need a health program for that.

There are also lawyers who’ve suffered strokes while attending forums. We have mortuary funds and, at present, the heirs of the members get a minimal amount of P20,000 and I think there is a need to increase that and we will consult members on how to improve that.

How do you intend to improve systems within the organization that will bring members closer together?

Sapayan: The first thing that has to be done is to create, and if it is already there, to improve it, a directory of all the members. Let’s invest in a database. I have here a list of the members of the city chapter and it still includes members who have long been dead.

We also have to improve our website and put up relevant information like the history of the chapter.

Lawyers of the generation below us don’t even know who the past presidents are and what the past administrations have accomplished.

It must also have links to law offices, release, on time, circulars and issuances and resolutions of the chapter and other concerned offices.

If the only things we see in the website are pictures of events like previous parties, what good is that to us?

But the real problem is members feel alienated, especially those coming from the other law schools. They don’t come and join activities and say what for? We have to entice our members back by giving them benefits and, right now, there are none. So why would they come?

Bonachita: We have constant fellowships among members.

In fact, every year, we have the law week and it is only in Cebu that we celebrate it for a whole week. Manila only celebrates a law day.

Part of that (celebration) is a fellowship among lawyers. It is in this time that members can rub elbows and get acquainted again with each other.

Also, we have several forums like the one we held when the issue of the mandatory legal aid service came out, and there is also the annual Christmas gathering among lawyers. The last time was unlike the previous years, we did not collect contribution from the lawyers. The gathering was for free.

These are among the improvements the present administration came out with and we will continue with that to encourage participation among lawyers in our gatherings.

Lawyers believe a schism exists between the city and the provincial chapters. How do you intend to address this?

Sapayan: I’ve not only heard of it, I’ve seen it in one project that was supposed to be jointly held. Suddenly, it wasn’t a joint activity anymore. It was held separately. It would be hypocritical of me to say there is no conflict.

I’ve seen the bone of contention. The problem there is not really between two chapters.

But I don’t agree with the opinion of some that the two chapters should simply be unified because they cover one locality.

In fact, I believe we should have more chapters. Mactan-Mandaue, for example, should be a chapter of its own because, under the IBP by-laws, a chapter should have a minimum of 500 members and a maximum of 1,500.

If you have a smaller number of constituents, you can take care of them better. The problem is some want a bloated membership because they rely solely on membership dues for income.

Bonachita: It’s just a perception. The Cebu City chapter does not consider it a conflict. The board itself does not collectively see it as a stumbling block, that there is an existing stumbling block with each other.

During the law week, we invited them to jointly undertake the activity with us because it has always been the tradition of both chapters, being in the same locality. But, at the last minute, they begged off because, according to them, of budgetary constraints.

We again invited them to the Christmas gathering we had the last time and there were members of the provincial chapter who really participated.

Maybe there is just some miscommunication or a communication gap at this time or in the past.

I do not view it as a conflict or a stumbling block for joint activities.

The IBP Cebu City chapter, in the past, relied on its members for funding even though its by-laws allow it to raise funds. Do you have revenue generation plans in mind?

Sapayan: Daghan kaayo ta og ma-tap for revenues. There are many affluent chapters in the Philippines to partner with. And there are different law organizations and leagues even outside the Philippines.

The Chamber of Commerce is very much willing to help us with projects.

The chapter is also allowed to exact special levies for certain special projects, which we can turn into a self-liquidating venture like a coffee lounge.

Bonachita: We cannot really rely on membership dues alone because, in the sharing of the dues, 60 percent goes to the national government.

We have been doing that (fund-raising projects) in the past years and in the past administration. We undertook or conducted activities that would generate some funds, although minimal.

Among them is that we now conduct MCLE training as an accredited provider. Before, we weren’t an accredited provider. But now, under the present administration, we’ve been accredited and can now conduct our own MCLE.

We derive some income from this and we use this to help fund our activities.

What is your stand on the plan to hold the bar exam here in Cebu for students in the Visayas and for others who do not want to take it in Manila?

Sapayan: I am for that idea. As a matter of fact, there should be three venues—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

When I took the bar, I felt very provincial. I was more worried about how to survive in Manila than the exam itself.

It’s high time to have alternative venues and law students should get to pick where to take the examination. I don’t think it will sacrifice the integrity and prestige of the examination.

It will really help our local graduates.

Not only can they rely on our support, we will also take the initiate.

Bonachita: We support that.

The present board even passed a resolution asking the Supreme Court (SC) to conduct the bar examinations here in Cebu and in other places in the Philippines to help students minimize their expenses.

However, it’s the SC that has the ultimate say on that and we have been waiting for the action of the SC.

Whatever happened to the plan to get health care coverage for chapter members?

Sapayan: It has been thought of before and many administrations have attempted to implement it.

The problem is not with us, but with the banking system. Lawyers are seen as high risk and the premiums are quite high.

The solution there is to do it ourselves and form some sort of a cooperative from a coalition of the willing.

We will not make it mandatory. Other members will join if they see the benefit it brings.

Bonachita: That’s one of the top priorities of our present administration. We have already initiated moves to that effect.

It might be viable for us to tap accident and health care insurance providers. There are existing programs, which are already availed of by other groups.

This was not implemented by the present administration because of the many other projects we have undertaken.

There might not be a 100-percent assurance that this will be accomplished but, as of this time, as members are otherwise busy with their work, we are already consulting with some insurance agents on what particular package would somehow fit.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 20, 2011.

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