Philippine judiciary

[OPINION] New lawyers, our watch begins

Niño Vince P. Suelto

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[OPINION] New lawyers, our watch begins

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Like the Crows in the Order of the Night’s Watch, good lawyers wear no crown and win no glory'

On May 2, 2023, 3,992 bar passers of the 2022 #CaguiWOW Bar Exams, chaired by Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, took their oaths and affixed their signatures on the Roll of Attorneys. It was a momentous and historical occasion not only because this was the batch of lawyers that had paid the highest bar admission fee to date, but also because this was the batch that had uttered their oaths or affirmations under the revised lawyers’ oath crafted by the 2020/2021 #BestBarEver Chairperson Justice Marvic Leonen. 

What is so special and novel about this new oath is its emphasis not only on a lawyer’s adherence to justice under the rule of law, but also to its active protection and promotion. The relevant portion of the revised lawyers’ oath states; 

I shall work towards promoting the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace. I shall conscientiously and courageously work for justice as well as safeguard the rights and meaningful freedoms of all persons, identities, and communities. I shall ensure greater and equitable access to justice.” 

In contrast to the previous lawyers’ oath, the word “justice” was expressed three times in the new oath, which signifies its central and utmost importance in the legal profession. 

One might get the impression that this thematic emphasis on justice is some lofty abstraction far removed from matters of daily living. On the contrary, it is far more grounded than it seems. In his speech before his Petition for Admission to the Bar of the Successful 2022 Bar Candidates, Justice Caguioa said that lawyers are the modern-day gladiators who fight for their client’s cause, whose main skillset is critical thinking and whose weapons of defending their client against injustice are his words, both written and spoken.  

He particularly emphasized that in doing so, lawyers must be reminded that the opposing party is also another human being that deserves justice as much as his client. This holistic perspective of justice plants the roots of the legal practice on the basic principle of fairness in every aspect of human interaction. As Justice Caguioa aptly puts it, “It is not so much to win at any cost, not to get your client’s pound of flesh, but rather to see the adversary as one who has his side of  the story to tell, his own right to be heard.” 

While the analogy that lawyers are his client’s gladiators is indeed true, I would propose an alternative one. Just as the members of the Armed Forces are guardians of the State’s territorial integrity and protector of our people; members of the Bar are sentinels of justice under the rule of law. Like George R.R. Martin’s Order of the Night’s Watch in A Song of Ice and Fire, lawyers are the watchers of the walls of justice. They are the shield that guards against the realm and its people against injustice.

To be a member of the Bar is not as glamorous as it is perceived to be. As the 2023 #HernanDoIt Bar Chairperson, Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, said, “membership in the Bar is not a self-centered occupation. It is a delicate and jealous privilege, a dangerous mission towards fairness and justice, and an unbreakable relationship with society.” Like the Crows in the Order of the Night’s Watch, good lawyers wear no crown and win no glory. True and honest lawyers live and die at their post ever-vigilant against perpetrators of injustice and detractors of the rule of law. They ought not to be content with sustaining their lives from the coin of their clients like some common sell-sword. There is a saying in the home province of my mother in Mindanao that roughly translates in English to, “The law ends where the road ends.” That is why, like the brave rangers of the Watch, lawyers ought venture to the wilderness beyond the comfort and security of the wall. 

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A fine exemplar of this would be the #BestBarEver Lawyers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu Chapter, who have scaled the hills and waded the shores of the islands of Cebu province as well as in neighboring provinces like Bohol and Southern Leyte just to provide legal aid services under the Abogados to the Barrios program. In 2022 alone they completed 90 legal aid missions under the leadership of their former chapter president, Cheryl Pamela Palacao-Condat. This 2023, from January to April, they completed 31 missions thus far under the current leadership of Michael Francis Hubahib. Justice Marvic Leonen, who champions public service, would be very proud of this feat of service that  they have accomplished and the spirit of volunteerism that they have displayed. 

For the #CaguiWarrior Lawyers of 2022, who have recently been inducted into the legal  profession, it is our challenge to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our seniors in furthering the initiative of making justice accessible even to the remote corners of our republic, beyond where the road ends. The path in which the advocates of justice will trek will be dark and cold like the north of Westeros, where the Order of the Night’s Watch are stationed to stand vigil. As the ink on our signatures dry on the roll, we pick up our torches toward the unknown wilderness beyond – for night gathers, and now our watch begins. –

Niño Vince P. Suelto, Esq. graduated with a degree in AB Political Science in 2011 at the Ateneo de Manila University, and a Juris Doctor degree in 2022 at San Beda College Alabang School of Law. He took the bar exam last November 2022 and successfully passed it on April 14, 2023.

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