MANILA – “If you stand for the people, it will not matter who stands against you,” former Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno challenged a group of new people’s lawyers during the testimonial for members of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) who passed the recent bar examinations. Puno was the guest of honor.
The former chief justice of the Supreme Court emphasized the need for more peoples’ lawyers especially during these times, which he described as a “paradox of opposites.”
“On one end of the economic spectrum, a few Filipinos are rated as among the richest in the world, yet on the other end, the super majority of Filipinos are consigned at the bottom of the barrel of life.”
“On one end of the political spectrum are the elected representatives of the people, yet on the other end, the people end up unrepresented or underrepresented in the government.”
“On the constitutional spectrum, we see on one end our choice of democracy as our form of government, yet on the other end we see democracy being tramped upon by oligarchs and dynasties that perpetuate the rule of the few and exclude the many.”
The retired magistrate also recognized that under the present justice system, there is inequality between the powerful and the powerless.
“But this is also the best of time for new lawyers, the best of times to be the light of our country that is groping in a prolonged moral eclipse,” Puno told NUPL members.
Seventeen NUPL members passed the 2013 bar examinations.
Puno noted that the people are in “a state of alternating anger, frustration and resignation” as the result of the expose’ on corruption of pork barrel funds.
“We can appreciate the people’s rage. We can understand the people’s disappointment but we cannot tolerate the people’s resignation to a fate that is not and cannot be irreversible,” Puno said. “Our duty is to protect our people’s sense of helplessness from developing to hopelessness and if there is any one group that can give hope to our people, it is their lawyers, you, the people’s lawyers.”
He called on the young defenders to be bearers of light. He said that to be a bearer of light, “one must be an agent of transformation and to be an agent of transformation, he or she must be a transformed person.”
Puno said the bearer of legal light must have the discernment to contend with the question ‘What change do we want in our current situation?’ He said that members of the NUPL need not be tormented by this question.
“In answer to this question, they championed the cause of the people and the people means the multitude, the many who are meek in contrast with the few who are mighty,” Puno said.
“Like the palm of their hand, they know that the history of man is essentially the story of a dogfight for property, the scramble for wealth by individuals and later by nations. They know that its continuing storyline is the exploitation of the ignorant by the ignoble, the exploitation of the untouchables by those with the touch of gold.”
The NUPL handled human-rights cases such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, cases in defense of the national sovereignty, environmental issues and consumer issues, among others.
“…The light of the law is social justice,” Puno said. He cautioned the young lawyers that the commitment to social justice would carry a cost.
“To fight for the people against the anti-people is not going to be a walk in the park. It is going to be a long, long walk where you would be wrestling with individuals who wield the power to destroy, who can take you out with the use of their political clout or impoverish you with their economic muscle and not infrequently, you will be fighting an overpowering government that is supposed to protect the people,” he said.
“This is the greatest tragedy of all, the most difficult fight of all – fighting a government that oppresses the people, the people whom they are supposed to serve, the people who are sovereign.”
Puno said the greatest Filipino lawyer is Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos, whose single decision “cannot be matched by all the landmark decisions written by all justices.”
“This was his decision, to give his life to our country that we may gain the people’s liberty from the Japanese,” Puno said. During the Japanese occupation, Santos refused to collaborate with the Japanese, charged falsely of crimes, tried in a summary hearing, found guilty and sentenced to die by firing squad.
He ended his speech by quoting Santos in the latter’s speech to Filipino soldiers in Bataan who were demoralized, “Hold on, hold on and hold on despite all difficulties.”
“To our people’s lawyers let that reminder reverberate in our hearts and minds, hold on with the struggle. The fight for the people is a fight for justice and the fight for justice is always right, a fight that is not only right but also righteous. And any fight for righteousness, however long, will always end in victory,” he said.
The lawyers and their guests gave Puno a standing ovation.
Speaking for the honorees, Maria Kristina Conti accepted the challenge and thanked their mentors and inspiration such as Puno and the late NUPL chairman Romeo T. Capulong, the so-called father of people’s lawyering in the country. (bulatlat.com)
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