EXPLAINER: Lawyers are among APORs, persons authorized outside their residence during GCQ. What has 'Lawyer on Board' sign got to do with it?

CEBU. Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter president Regal Oliva and a 'Lawyer on Board' sign. (SunStar File)
CEBU. Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter president Regal Oliva and a 'Lawyer on Board' sign. (SunStar File)

TWO questions are being raised in the public chatter on the subject of lawyers going out of their homes and displaying the "Lawyer on Board" (LOB) sign:

[1] Are lawyers in the list of persons authorized during general quarantine to leave their shelter?

[2] Is it illegal or ethical for a lawyer to announce that there's a lawyer in the vehicle?

The first does not have to be tied to the second, or vice versa.

THEY'RE IN LIST. Lawyers are in the list. No question about it. Both the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) omnibus guidelines and executive orders issued by local governments in Cebu say so, according to IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) Cebu City chapter president Regal M. Oliva.

Atty. Oliva cited to SunStar last Sunday, August 30, the IATF resolution: #46, series of 2020. The resolution allows "transit of lawyers who will provide legal representation... necessary to protect the rights of persons under custodial investigation, to bail, and to counsel during inquest proceedings."

Under Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella's executive order #88 dated August 15, an example of what the local EOs say, legal and accounting services are among the offices that may reopen at 50 percent capacity. The lawyers' offices are in Category III but they're in the list. Their employees are among the people exempted from the "stay-at-home" order.

NOT APOR 'PER SE.' But those who love to nitpick, as many lawyers do, may point out that the APOR right for them is restricted by the IATF condition that the travel is necessary for protecting rights of arrested persons. Lawyer Vincent Isles last Sunday told SunStar, "lawyers are not APOR per se; they are APOR only when attending to bail or inquest proceedings and... to maintain the rights of a person in custodial investigation."

That's the IATF rule. But Mayor Labella's executive order opens law offices under GCQ -- more so, it must be, under MGCQ -- up to half each office staff. Surely the lawyers are included and thus can travel under that clause.

THE STICKER THING. The LOB sticker is not required under IATF or LGU rules. Police patrol or checkpoint most likely does not look for that.

In Cebu City, only the community quarantine pass is needed, along with his ID and maybe, if the enforcer is finicky and suspects the nature of the trip, the court notice of the trial or some other paper specifying the nature of his trip.

Perhaps that's what the LOB sign is for: to tell the police they're dealing with a law-abiding citizen, not a terrorist, and one who could talk to them to death about law and order and the lawyers' role in upholding them.

As to whether using the sign violates ethics, it does not, unless maybe the sign screams "Atty. Vincent Isles, a Lawyer, Aboard." That would be more advertising than an appeal.

A COLUMNIST WONDERS. The Cebu City IBP, trying to be helpful to its members during the emergency, has provided an ID to each lawyer who applies for it. And, besides the ID card, the big LOB sign.

Publio Briones III, in two SunStar columns (August 26 and 29), said he has nothing against lawyers who sport the LOB sign in their vehicles.

Yet Briones III wonders if lawyers should be exempted from the stay-at-home CQ order, are they essential, and if not why are they displaying that sign. And he went further: Do they expect special treatment and be not covered by quarantine rules imposed on the general population?

Those who reacted to that "point" say the rules include them in the list of APORs, lawyers may not be as urgently essential as the health workers but the machinery of justice needs to work even during the pandemic. Atty. Isles said he thinks "the pushback against Briones is uncalled for." Instead of castigating him, the lawyer said, they should look at his "piece" as "a good starting point to addressing the ill-conceived provisions in the IATF guidelines."

"SPECIAL TREATMENT." The LOB sign is not required for the APOR's right to go out of his shelter. Irrelevant, as lawyers put it. And yet many lawyers put them up, which made non-lawyers ask, What's the deal?

Ascribing ill motive to a sign may be unfair. Professional emblems are common, pandemic or not, be it a plague or the underrated flu. Emblems for different occupations are so common that suppliers of signs and stickers are flourishing.

Journalists display PRESS on their vehicles or on large IDs around their neck. "Baby on Board" is seen on SUVs where parents worry about reckless drivers. Occasionally spotted is 'Trained Owner of Firearms," or, more frequently, "Drivers are Best Lovers."

Are the signs a call for special treatment? More of a caution that journalists need to reach their destination or be spared from harm, particularly in conflict-torn areas. That babies must be protected. Or drivers are worth spending time with on bed. Or better not argue with a lawyer and save time for everyone.


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