I WROTE this article less than an hour after the release of the 2019 Bar Exam result. I set aside what I originally intended to submit to the editor to give way to an important issue: lawyering in a time of pandemic.
One might ask what are lawyers for in the face of a world that is desperately seeking for a vaccine? One might ask more bluntly whether it is not better, these days, to have more nurses than lawyers? The said to be new normal has been affecting us and surely the legal profession is not immune. What kind of a world awaits our new lawyers?
The question concerning the relevance of Law (the profession) cannot be reduced to mere marketability. It may sound cliché but lawyering is not just a profession, it is a commitment. The lawyer's oath says in part:
"I will do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court; I will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, or give aid nor consent to the same; I will delay no man for money or malice, and will conduct myself as a lawyer according to the best of my knowledge and discretion, with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to my clients; and I impose upon myself these voluntary obligations without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion."
Justice is the end of law. Take away our concern for justice and we would not need lawyers. In this great time of trial and difficulty lawyers are most needed by those who have less in life.
The most genuine answer to the questions "who lawyers are and what are they for" would emerge in the worst of times. After all, it is in the most inhuman of the world's experience that we would truly know where people and institutions stand in the spectrum of justice and fairness. In the best of times we could fake our political positions but not when our agenda and interests would be tested to their limit vis-à-vis a crisis.
Faced with complex challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic our democratic institutions are in danger of crumbling. True that we have retained the façade and the formalities of our systems. But sadly, we are in denial that we are no longer living in the same spirit of democracy as our legal codes say it. We cannot but put into question the depth and extent of justice that there is in the way people's rights are promoted and defended: political, civil, social and economic.
Our new lawyers in due time will pledge with the following words: "I, do solemnly swear that I will maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines, I will support the Constitution and obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein...." This is not an easy promise to fulfill. It is not easy to support and defend a Constitution that is not respected by its main implementing agencies no less. It is one thing to be able to define justice and fairness it is essentially another to die for it. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. "the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."
In times of crisis, political opportunism abound. Exploitative conditions of society increase while people are dying either because of the disease, hunger or fear. But we know very well that even as the boat sinks to the deepest part of hell inequity and inequality continue to divide people. This is the context of the social landscape our new lawyers shall be offering their services to. It is a warzone. And it takes full faith in the idea of justice in order to win the war in the same way that it takes the fullest expression of faith in God in order to go to heaven.
In the meantime, I would like to send my warmest congratulations to my former students who passed the Bar! You truly deserve it! To you, I dedicate this piece with the highest hopes that you will make a difference!
April 29, 2020
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