On the Occasion of the Testimonial Dinner for the New Lawyers of the University of Pangasinan College of Law


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University of Pangasinan

August 5, 2016

Dean Albino and Atty. Gonzales, to other officials, Faculty and Students of the University of Pangasinan College of Law, to the new lawyers, and now our esteemed colleagues in the legal profession, friends, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a great honor for me to speak before you here today on the occasion of the testimonial dinner of the University of Pangasinan College of Law for the new lawyers gathered here with us today.

May I also express my warmest congratulations to our honorees, not only for passing the bar, but for surviving the struggle that each and every aspiring student of law goes through in the five years of his or her life. I guess, five years is the minimum.

Wala pa akong kilalang genius who finished law school in three years, and took the bar in the fourth year. The maximum, of course, is unlimited. Sila yung mga UNLI law students. Unlimited ang time nila para mag-aral sa law school. Kung may mga tumatawa diyan baka tinatamaan kayo. 

To our dear new lawyers, in a sense we are in the same situation at this point in our lives. This is my first entry into politics, into elective office, and my first appearance in the national legislature. On the other hand, you have just passed the bar after five years of struggle, and are now ready to embark on that great adventure known as the practice of law.

Kahit ano pang field yan, whether private practice, government service, research work in the judiciary, consultancy, it is still the practice of law. So long as you use your law school education and legal skills in your work, you are engaged in the practice of law and are a practicing lawyer. Never let anyone tell you otherwise, that just because you are not in private practice, you are not engaged in the practice of law. That is the first fallacy that you have to disabuse yourself of.

As I said, in a way, my situation now is no different from yours. If the challenge to you was the bar review and passing the bar, mine was campaigning and winning the recent elections for senator. If your preparation was the four years of law school, mine was my seven years in public service as Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and as Secretary of Justice. If your struggle was to understand and memorize the law, mine was to guide the whole of government in the matters of law, apply the law, and prosecute those who violate the law.

Fortunately, all of us made it. Mga bagong abogado na kayo, ako naman ay isa sa inyong bagong katiwala sa Senado sa susunod na anim na taon.

How time flies. Just recently you were law students, and now you are lawyers. Time also flies for me.

But what I learned is that the way to make sure that time does not get ahead of us, na hindi tayo paglipasan ng panahon, is to get the wind beneath our wings. This means preparation, a sense of the moment, recognizing opportunities, and foresight on our careers and further goals. This means a never-ending job of studying the law, and updating ourselves on the latest jurisprudence. This means taking the MCLE every three years. And it also means studying the law in your own respective fields of expertise as much as you can, to serve your clients better or, if you are in public service, to serve the government to your utmost.

Being in government is never an excuse for being a mediocre lawyer. Many of the best lawyers in this country work in government. That is what I found out when I worked for the CHR and became Secretary of Justice.

Let me give you an example. Wala ng gagaling pa sa mga prosecutors natin at mga PAO lawyers sa field ng criminal law, when compared to those in private practice. Of course there are good criminal lawyers in the private sector. But nothing prepares you better in the practice of criminal law than appearing every day before a judge handling bundles of file folders of cases of different criminal offenses. That is an experience you do not get in private practice. That is an expertise that can be honed only by being in public service.

Like a newly-minted lawyer who just passed the bar, I am a neophyte senator. But I have barely warmed my seat at the Senate Session Hall when I already find myself in the middle of a very controversial issue. In a sense, like your first court appearance, this is my baptism of fire as a Senator. This is all about my proposed resolution to investigate the trend in summary executions and extra-judicial killings, and the pattern in the deadly use of force by the police in either arresting or transporting suspects.

Because of this, walang tigil ang paninira sa akin sa social media at pag-atake sa akin ng mga matataas na opisyales ng ating Pangulo. I guess you have already either watched or read portions of my first privilege speech in the Senate. That is why I am just so relieved that President Duterte took a step backward and said that I was just doing my job, that if he were in my shoes, he would do the same. Ganoon naman po talaga ang attitude ko mula noong ako ay naging public servant. Trabaho lang, walang personalan.   

That is probably another lesson that I would impart to you. In your practice as a lawyer, your opposing counsel, or party, may always seem confrontational. But that is all part of the job. Do not take it personally. That is why lawyers have this way of being friends outside the courtroom, even when they engage in legal tussles on the finer points of the law inside the courtroom. Kaya po ang tawag natin sa kapwa abogado ay compañero at compañera.

[Narrate COMELEC practice days]

We are always friends and colleagues outside the courtroom. Inside the courtroom we are all officers of the court. This is what binds us. This is what binds all lawyers. Kaya bigyan ninyo ng halaga ang pagtawag sa inyo na panero o panera ng mga kapwa abogado, katulad ng pagbigay ninyo ng halaga sa pagtawag din sa kanila sa ganoong kataga.

My work at the Senate will be a challenge. We have a jungle of laws out there, several of them are dead laws and are not being implemented. We need experts who will give us their time and share their experience in the law, and give recommendations on how to organize or make systematic the codification of certain laws, or if not their codification, at least their presentation in a publication that will guide lawyers and legislators on the status of the law on a particular subject matter.

I once heard about a UP Law professor who told his students. He proposed that Congress stop making new laws, and instead start organizing and codifying all existing laws, and repeal dead-letter laws. This does not appear to be such a bad idea. We may not agree on the cessation of all legislation, since this will be a violation of the constitutional mandate of Congress, but we can all agree that is high time to put a system in our legislation for easy reference, amendments and repeals. As a first step, I am thinking about the codification of all our criminal laws. This is what we have done at the Department of Justice, when we proposed to Congress the adoption of a New Criminal Code.

This would help President Duterte, whose thrust for his term in office is anti-crime and anti-corruption. Kalimutan muna natin ang mga shortcuts, because in the long-term, shortcuts to law enforcement, fighting crime, and fighting corruption, never work. Let us shame criminal offenders and corrupt officials with our mastery of the law and the legal system. Let us fight them on the moral high ground that is our choice of battlefield, the rule of law and the reign of justice.

Let us not bow down to their level of criminal methods. That is their choice of battleground. That is their terrain. They always operate outside the law, although of course they use our institutions to corrupt the system. But we can never allow ourselves, the law enforcers, policy-makers, and decision-makers to operate outside the law. Kapag nagkaganoon, tayo, bilang mga abogado, ay wala ng pinagkaiba sa mga kriminal.

Sasabihin ninyo sa akin eh ikaw nga diyan ang nag-defy ng Supreme Court TRO na huwag pigilin si Arroyo na lumabas ng bansa. My defense to that accusation is perfectly legal. I was never properly served a copy of the TRO before Arroyo’s attempted flight abroad. Sinerve po nila through TV. Kahit saan ko po basahin ang Rules of Court wala akong makita na service of TRO through TV. Sabi nila palusot ko iyon. Eh yun po ang nakasulat sa Rules of Court, that the other party should be served a copy of the TRO, and that is only the time when the TRO becomes effective as to the party served.

And then andyan naman yung DAP. Unconstitutional daw. Papaano naman po malalaman ng ating gobyerno na unconstitutional ang mga batas na nagpapatupad ng DAP bago pa madeclare unconstitutional ang mga ito? Hindi naman po manghuhula ang President Aquino o Secretary Abad. Yun po ang batas. Sinunod nila. Sabi ng Supreme Court unconstitutional. Naging unconstitutional na lang ang mga provisions na ito sa Revised Administrative Code pagkatapos ng DAP at pagkatapos sabihin ng Supreme Court. Before that, these provisions of the Administrative Code were part of the law of the land and should be implemented. 

This is probably the biggest challenge that I will leave to you as your speaker and Guest of Honor today.

In your career as a lawyer, you will experience a lot of challenges. Some will be more serious than others. There will always be the temptation to use connections, and to call up judges or prosecutors, or government agencies and officials, either to win a case or to get that government permit or license for your client. For those who will be in government service, there will always be the temptation of bribery, of easy money, and looking the other way in government transactions.

So let me get back to what I said in the beginning about preparing yourselves in your career as lawyers. You must have a sense of the moment, recognize opportunities, and possess foresight in your career goals. I will not teach you about honor and integrity and legal ethics and the lawyer’s oath. You already know about those things. The only question you have to ask is, is it worth it? Is paying off that judge worth it? Is looking for connections to that prosecutor worth it? Is being influenced by your relatives, friends and acquaintances, whether for financial reasons or personal ties, to give them undue advantage, worth it?

Think about it first. Because this is where your contribution to the corruption of our system begins. Once you have done it, you forfeit your right to complain about all the corruption and chaos that is happening in your country today. Huwag na kayong mag-reklamo dahil parte na kayo ng kurakot na sistema pag yun ang landas na pinili ninyo. You will be no different from the government officials who receive money from drug lords and jueteng lords. You will just be another cog in the well-oiled machine that corrupts our society and condemns our people to poverty.

Most importantly, the question you should ask is this: Is it worth your dignity as a lawyer and as a human being?

I hope all of the lawyers here present will say no, or at least think twice about it before they say yes. But it will always be a personal decision. It will be your decision as an individual. No one will make that decision for you but you and yourself alone. Society will not make that decision for you. It is not a social decision. It is and will always be a personal decision.

So the next time you see a policeman mulcting a motorist, or a custom official receiving a bribe, or a judge or prosecutor being paid for a decision, do not blame it on the system, if you have already chosen long ago in your life to be a part of that system.

Personal honor and integrity goes to the root of the kind of society we have. They are not hollow words. As lawyers, we are expected to give more premium to these words than any of the other professions. Honor and integrity lies at the very core of our profession. Without them, being a lawyer is no longer different from becoming a mercenary. Without them, you lose that moral character that distinguishes a lawyer from an ambulance-chaser.

No amount of MCLE can teach you that. That is a personal learning in life.

I am not telling you to be poor. By all means get rich, for yourself, your family, and your community. Although I highly doubt it if you can do this if you work as a lawyer for government. You make your decision today. If you want to get rich, engage in private practice. Do not entertain the thought of using government to launch your get-rich-in-20-years program. Or enter government today to get the experience, skills, and expertise you need before engaging in private practice.

My dear new lawyers, being a lawyer is a prestige and a privilege. I am sure you have already felt that from all your relatives and friends who have congratulated you in the past months. But being a lawyer is only as prestigious as what you make out of yourselves as a lawyer. It is not money, it is not wealth, it is not fame, it is not a new car.

It is honor, and it is integrity.

Again, congratulations to the new lawyers of the University of Pangasinan College of Law!

Maraming salamat po at magandang gabi sa inyong lahat!   

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