SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE: Lawyers as Advocates of Liberty and Prosperity

By: Pamela Camille A. Barredo

Far Eastern University


“Ite, inflammate omnia”

(Go, set the world on fire.)

– St. Ignatius of Loyola


A career in law was in my cards as early as when I was five years old because of my grandfather. He was a lawyer; a prosecutor to be exact. It was the confidence and eloquence he exuded that particularly drew to me to be just like him. But of the many things I learned from him, these words stood out: “Legal education does not end when you finish law school or when you pass the bar. Lawyering is a life of non-stop learning; you always have to read and to go out there. Be a lawyer who fights for justice and not just a lawyer who earns. It will cost somebody someday.”

But more than the inspiration from my late grandfather and the promise I made to him, I also owe it to my 17 years of Jesuit education the reason I continue to fight this good fight. It is because of my education that I have been imbued with a deep sense of Ignatian values that emphasize the education of the whole person, social justice, and service to others through outreach programs, community involvements and immersions. Thus, while my personal commitment of personifying a woman for and with others is reinforced by a genuine care for the common good, the seeds of such a desire were planted because of the most horrific and harshest realities of the world I have witnessed at an early age.

One morning in 2001, loud explosions rang and the sound of sporadic gunfire soon followed. Hostages were taken, Islamic rebels occupied a disputed territory, and government forces swiftly responded. I remember waking up to the voice of a woman on television detailing what was happening at a nearby barangay as my mother comforted us children back to sleep. By noon, I found myself at the grocery store with my mother panic-buying, just like everyone else, in case we needed to evacuate. As strange as it sounds hearing myself say it today, back then we learned to live with school days being called off because of bomb threats, routine kidnappings, rebel insurgencies, and fear of my military father being sent to war.

Such unrest surely has wreaked havoc and has caused everyone to live in vigilance and in fear.

In fifth grade, I went to an orphanage for the first time. ‘Axel’, a two-year old boy was my assigned buddy. From the social workers, I found out that Axel’s birth father abandoned his mother when she was a few months pregnant and that his mother lived with a man who would physically abuse Axel. Sadly, the mother chose the man over her child and left him in that orphanage. In sixth grade, we visited a children’s center for physically and sexually abused boys and girls, some by their extended relatives and some by their own fathers. Their stories still haunt be up to this very day.

In high school, we visited hospitals and home for the elders during the Christmas season. In my junior year, we were tasked to “make someone happy.” I chose a little girl named Lea. She lived in a run-down shack with her brother and their senior citizen father who worked for my grandmother. Their mother left them for another man. Lea was small for her age. She was malnourished and had a bloated stomach. She wore dirty clothes and rarely brushed her hair and teeth. She did not know how to read nor write, but she told me that she wanted to go to school and become a teacher someday.

But the most poignant encounters I had were during my university years. In my third year, we had our Junior Engagement Program. I was tasked to work as a street sweeper for three days along Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City. Street sweepers are one of the most often disregarded workers. They work from five to nine in the morning, exposed not only to pollution but also to other dangers in the road. Despite warning signs, they can still be a magnet for mayhem along the sidewalks. What is even more alarming is that they do not get as much protection and aid when accidents at work occur.

In January 2011, I went to Iba, Zambales and lived with the Maporac Aeta community for three days. Although the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act was already passed in 1997 and ancestral domains should already be given back to them, they still had to take legal action in order to actually claim and be handed over the land titles. Aside from their struggle for land title and rights against a mining company, they also continuously struggled to afford even basic education for their children.

In 2009, I had the privilege to interview Raymond Manalo, one of the Manalo brothers who are the respondents in The Secretary of National Defense v. Manalo case. During the interview, he talked about his life before, during and after he became a victim of enforced disappearances. When I asked about what he thought of the justice system in the Philippines, he simply replied, “walang ngipin. May tainga pero nagbibingi-bingihan.” For someone who wants to become a lawyer, hearing that straight from a victim of injustice shook me to the core.

But what really is justice? William Smith of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia said that “there is no justice template and there is no justice solution that is perfect.” Societies have had different concepts of justice; it is not the same across the board. In the simplest of terms, however, justice means fairness. It is giving the other what is due him or her. Economically, justice compels our transactions be freely conducted. Legally, justice means adhering to the Constitution that guarantees due process of law and equal protection for all.

Without a doubt, justice means having a sustainable future with the values of liberty and prosperity depending in part upon strong governmental and judicial institutions. Liberty and prosperity go together in perfect harmony; they are not mutually exclusive. In order to attain this dual goal, there should be an understanding of the interweaving of law and economics. To quote Justice Panganiban, “justice and jobs; freedom and food; ethics and economics; democracy and development; nay, liberty and prosperity must always go together; one is useless without the other.” For society to flourish, freedom is necessary. Freedom, on the other hand, requires a deeply-rooted respect for the rule of law for the rule of law is the underpinning of liberty and prosperity. A society that seeks liberty and prosperity must also seek the rule of law.

Justice, in the Philippine context, is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. Section 1 of Article XIII on Social Justice and Human Rights provides that “[t]he Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.” Section 2 of the same article provides that “[t]he promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance.”

In Calalang v. Williams, social justice is defined as “the promotion of the welfare of all the people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to ensure economic stability of all the component elements of society, through the maintenance of a proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community.” In its very core, the goal of social justice is prosperity.

The Philippines have good laws whose main beneficiaries are the basic sectors, especially the poor. It is these sectors that are at the forefront of the long-term battle against poverty, thus, they are an indispensable lobby in pushing for badly-needed legislations for the underprivileged. Allowing them to be heard is crucial in the crafting of anti-poverty measures that genuinely respond to their needs. These sectors of the society need to be given a platform so they can navigate between government agencies and civil society institutions on issues that are pertinent to them. But how can they be heard when they are not even given the opportunity to speak up? How can they have a voice when their right to redress is often curtailed?

They require advocates – partners who truly and genuinely believe in their causes; lawyers who use their legal knowledge in order to speak in their behalf; legal practitioners who will fight with and for them. “When you have a gap between your law and your justice, that’s when you, when you become lawyers, come in,” said my Philosophy of Law professor. A free and democratic society continues to exist if the concept that justice is based upon the rule of law is recognized. Lawyers, as officers of the court and guardians of the law, play a vital role in the preservation of such a society. A lawyer’s fulfillment of these roles requires an understanding of his relationship with and function in our legal system.

They say that to be an effective advocate of whatever cause, especially that of the poor, a lawyer must have a quick mind, a compassionate heart, and a charming personality for he has to understand another person’s life story at a moment’s notice. He must have the ability to express himself clearly and appealingly to the people from different walks of life, so that they will listen to him and understand what he has to say. Those who tend to be better advocates are people who are not easily intimidated by difficult people or situations and who have little difficulty in speaking up for themselves or others. Often, advocacy does not provide immediate results. Some situations may require persistence and effort to achieve success.

The problem nowadays, conversely, is passivity. Apathy seems like a contagious disease plaguing the society keeping people often trapped in their own bubble. I witness that every single day, even amongst my classmates in law school. “I have to study. I do not have time for anything else.” The crucial question now then is: in this world of “as long as I am okay, I do not really care much about the rest”, how can I espouse the principles of liberty and prosperity as a student of law and as a future legal practitioner?

I always beam with pride whenever I say that I want to become a human rights lawyer someday. I dream of fighting for the oppressed, being the voice of the weak, and guarding the rights of the marginalized. But law school has a way of waking me up to the harsh reality that having a dream is never enough. Bad ‘recits’, overwhelming readings and cases, and horrible exam results slap me in the face every day.

I am already in my third year in law school. Four more semesters until graduation and the most dreaded bar examination. However, I know that there are still a lot for me to learn and I have a lot of flaws that I still have to work on. I am always reminded of “how can you help the weak if you do not even know the law?” It is only in knowing the ins and outs of the Philippine legal system that I can truly and effectively forward my advocacy. More than the substantial and procedural aspects of the law, there also are the technicalities. It is never enough to just know the abstract concepts and theories. Proper and effective application is also a must. Administering justice, after all, goes way beyond just knowing the intricacies of the law; it only becomes concrete through actions.

I have always been a late bloomer. Even at 28, I have yet to muster up the courage to speak up and to take the lead. This semester, I am making an effort to shy away from that what-if-I-am-not-good-enough mentality. My goal is to put into actuation what I have learned from grueling hours of reading and embarrassing nerve-wracking recitations. I recently founded a student organization that advocates for human rights and the environment. Our goal is to be agents of social change and empower the FEU Institute of Law community to have a deeper sense of responsibility in upholding human rights and protecting the environment through trainings and community involvements. We have yet to launch our first project, but I am looking forward to the very exciting times ahead. I also recently accepted the role of Jurisprudence Editor II for the Far Eastern Law Review. Not only do I want to develop my writing, research and critical thinking skills, but I also want to use that as a channel to disseminate valuable information and to spread awareness to a wider audience.

After finishing law school and passing the bar, my ultimate goal really is to become a law professor. Right after graduating from college, I taught college students in my hometown and I promised myself that I will go back to teaching. I have always looked up to my professors, then and now, and found their jobs to be one of the noblest. What I know now, academic and even life lessons, I owe mostly to them. I want to be able to pay it forward and provide my future students with the vital skills and competencies for them to reach their goals. I aim to inculcate the values, ethics and responsibilities of a lawyer. I want to inspire them to advocate for inclusivity, justice, liberty, prosperity and adherence to the rule of law.

Lawyering, after all, in the words of Justice Panganiban in the case of Burbe v. Magulta, is “not primarily meant to be a money-making venture, and law advocacy is not a capital that necessarily yields profits… Duty to public service and to the administration of justice should be the primary consideration of lawyers, who must subordinate their personal interests or what they owe to themselves. The practice of law is a noble calling in which emolument is a byproduct, and the highest eminence may be attained without making much money.”

Law school is one rollercoaster ride. I try to enjoy and learn everything I can while I am here. It is a constant but worthwhile challenge. While it is a constant struggle to keep myself motivated and to not just breakdown as I juggle law school with full-time work and the exigencies of life, it is the likes of Axel, Lea, the street sweepers, the Aetas in Zambales and the Manalo brothers that serve as my driving force. They are my answers to the proverbial “para kanino ka bumabangon?”

And while I cannot perfectly predict where life will take me in the next five to ten years, this I am certain – I will always carry with me Raymond Manalo’s words: “Maging aral sana ito sa mga tao lalo na sa mga kabataan; kailangan ng lakas ng loob at huwag silang matakot na ipaglaban ang kung ano sa tingin nila ang tama. Huwag magbulag-bulagan.” As a law student and an aspiring lawyer, I commit to setting the world on fire. One that is worth spreading. One that kindles other fires.