TODAY, Ash Wednesday, we take a quick break from the rat race (where only the rats win) and remember that we are dust and unto dust we are to return. The idea is for carbon units (as humans are called in Star Trek) to be aware, if only for a fleeting moment, that, despite all appearances in the interim to the contrary, they are from the very start only carbon units and will in the end be no more than as carbon units.

Those who would wish to break away from such fates are told, nay encouraged, to heed the cry of John the Baptizer, to repent and be sorry for their sins and turn their eyes and efforts to heaven.

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Lawyers are not exempted from the need to undergo that penitential rite and to those of my brothers in the profession who find humbling penitence too difficult, I commend the reading of the complainant lodged by a employee-lawyer with the Department of Labor and Employment on 30 September 2009. My aim is not that to suggest that his complaints are to be believed on his say so, but rather that, contrary to popular belief, it is possible for some lawyers to be bothered by their conscience. At least this one, apparently was.

The lawyer-complainant worked for a moneyed politician who is currently seeking public office. Initially, after passing the bar examinations, he worked in a law partnership formed by some of the more senior alumni of his own alma mater. Thence, we worked with the law office of a former solicitor general who is known for his constant representation of the oppressed underdog and his public espousal of quixotic causes. Eventually, he worked for the moneyed politician and his group of companies; he was young and full of hope, with the same fire that was in his eyes when he became a lawyer in 2001.

It was, as he confesses, the lure of higher income in the face of an impending marriage that induced him to accept employment as in-house counsel in the companies of the money politician. He was given the usual tasks of an in-house lawyer: crafting agreements between his employer and its counterparties, filing papers with the government offices where they do business; dealing with pesky problems, such as compensating those who by law or feeling consider themselves entitled to a share in his employer’s wealth.

It was there that the complainant-lawyer experienced the clash of his personal ethics with, from what we can glean from his sworn statement filed with DOLE, the ethic of his workplace. What he learned in school, what he practiced with his fraternity brods, what he assimilated from the office of the lawyer-crusader, all went down the drain, in style.

Prior to the release of the results of the bar examinations in 2001, the lawyer-complainant, like many of those now awaiting the results of last year’s bar examinations, made, in his words, “a pact” with his God. A covenant within the meaning of the term before the late Ferdinand Marcos gave it a spin.

Kneeling in front of the Sacristy of the San Pablo Cathedral, the lawyer-complaint said he prayed:

“Lord, if you will me to become a lawyer, I will be an instrument of justice and I will forever be your good servant by defending the cause of truth and the oppressed.”

The martial tenor of his prayer bears the marks of formation in the hands of the followers of the Soldier-Saint who run the college of arts and sciences where he got his degree of Bachelor of Science in 1997 (which probably gave rise to channel figure) as well as the school of law that graduated him juris doctor in 2001. The Ateneo law school’s patron is St. Thomas More, to the extent that he asserted himself “the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” That aspect of More’s spirituality that allegedly tried to save his servants from suffering in Purgatory by dealing them corporeal punishment in his household, is conveniently ignored at the law school.

The above promise of his youth had to be broken in the practice of his law. He was to learn, bit by bit, that his employer acquired hectares and hectares of property by dubious conversions of agricultural land into residential subdivisions and commercial areas. He was to learn of how bribes spread around to the officials that had to be made happy: judges, valuators, and even their lowly staffs. He became privy to all too common tricks of papers and folders getting “misplaced”, if not outright “lost”. He was witness to the use of falsified documents and spurious evidence to give a semblance of legitimacy to his employer’s transactions, no matter flawed in law and in the eyes of God.

It was easy for him to look the other way. He had talent and was confident it was, in his heart of hearts, his able handling of the cases, and not the “support” of his employer, that elicited favorable actions and decisions from the administrative and judicial officers. He was able to convince himself that his cases were all won the merits and the aerial assistance of his employer politician had no direct influence on his success.

Until he suffered defeat from a local attorney practicing in his hometown. He had reasons to believe that what he (or more precisely what his employer in his behalf) had done unto others was in his little town where he thought he was going to be invincible was done unto him. The local attorney, whom the lawyer-complainant could cut up mercilessly in the courts of Manila, was less vulnerable in his little area of operation. “Home court advantage”, he learned, was not exclusively basketball league member’s comfort zone.

Flung to the ground was the lawyer-complainant like the religious scholar of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Hit by a cannon-ball was he like the worldly soldier at the Castle of Pamplona. And once in a rare while, “repentant lawyer” was not an oxymoron.

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