Leaving a Trail Towards Liberty and Prosperity for the Filipinos

By: Jun Dexter H. Rojas

Polytechnic University of the Philippines


          What would we do without freedom? Perhaps the best way to appreciate the meaning of a concept is to imagine life without it. Imagine life without cellular phones or the internet or electricity. Certainly, feelings of discomfort, anxiety and even fear are quick to come in. Now imagine living in a society without human rights, without liberty, where rule of law is absent and fear reigns supreme. A deep sense of helplessness is sure to touch one’s soul.

          Filipinos of today are fortunate to be living in a country that is free. Yet the world is replete with experiences where liberty had been totally or partially inexistent. Filipinos need not look far for examples. We had been a colony of Spain for hundreds of years, then of the United States and under Japanese rule during the Second World War.

          For more than four centuries the Philippines was not free to decide its own fate nor seek its own destiny. Had liberty been an unnecessary component of development, progress and prosperity, our country must have long shunned the label called “third world”. History tells us that at least for the Filipino, deprivation of liberty is incompatible with achieving prosperity for all.

          In this essay, I will attempt to discuss the natural human tendency to desire liberty, to seek prosperity and the interplay between the two concepts. I will also discuss on the role lawyers and the law have to play to make sure that these “twin beacons”1 of justice are safeguarded and nurtured.


It is Human Nature to Seek Freedom and Prosperity

          In the movie Jose Rizal, young “Pepe” asked his mother at the dinner table about the meaning of justice. Her mother was quick to dismiss his curiosity saying that a child should not meddle in adult discussions. Pepe retorted by asking whether it should be considered injustice when adults can interrupt children’s conversations while the reverse is prohibited. Indeed, the desire for basic freedoms is innate to human beings. The moment a child masters the use of his faculties, he is soon to realize that as a human being, he is capable of his own free thought.

          The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a living testament to the universality and inalienability of Human Rights. It pronounced the existence and recognition of the “inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”2 Ergo, we don’t owe our human rights to the government or any individual because we owe it to our Creator. What we don’t owe any other human being, let no one take them away.

          Human rights belong to the law of nature which are fundamental and immutable. To restrict human freedoms without reason is to go against human nature. It is tantamount to driving to a dead end or hitting a brick wall. I submit that the desire to be free stems from the human need to be recognized, to contribute and to be of value to the community. Similarly, it stems from man’s natural tendency to want to be the master of his own fate or destiny.

          As it is naturally human to desire to be free, so it is natural for him to yearn for a better life for him and his family. If it were not so, our ancestors would not have bothered inventing and discovering the conveniences our generation currently enjoy. We would not have evolved from our hunting-gathering selves. Such desire for progress propels people to wake up early in the morning or stay awake at night to provide for their families. The same desire propels students like me to toil through the four years of law school.

          The desire for prosperity or the betterment of one’s self is inextricably tied to man’s ability to hope. I concur with the Evangelical Theological Faculty (ETF) when it said “Hope is a driving force for transformation, innovation, economic growth and well-being.”3


The Interlink Between Liberty and Prosperity

          Liberty and prosperity, man’s twin desires, work most effectively when pursued together. I agree with Chief Justice Panganiban that the two concepts are “mutually inclusive”4. Liberate man to think, to dream, and to apply the fruits of his thoughts, limited only by his duty to respect the same rights of his fellowmen, and he is bound to produce results of infinite possibilities. Had the United States arbitrarily restricted its own people’s freedom to think and act, would the world have seen the likes of Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King or Bill Gates?

          In no other political system are these twin desires of man more effectively pursued than in a democracy. In democratic societies, each person is empowered, at least through their chosen representatives, to gain “access to the public square where people deliberate the order of their life together.”5

          In a democracy, due process assures the people that they are to reap the benefits of their hard work. Thus, there is greater impetus for the craftsman to improve his craft, for the professional to increase his expertise in his field, or for business to expand its trade.

          In relation to this, I submit the belief that to seek and nurture prosperity for the people is to nurture peace and stability. A person, prosperous enough to provide the needs and wants of his family, is less likely to breach the rights of his fellowmen. When there is enough bread for all, it is counterintuitive and against human nature to desire the bread of his neighbour to the risk of inviting the disdain of the whole community.

          Developing and sustaining a prosperous economy require consistency in economic policies and a prolonged overall political stability. Blatant violation of human rights and the curtailment of fundamental freedoms inevitably result in political uncertainties. These uncertainties discourage investors to expand or worse, prevent them from entering a market economy at all.

          These theories on the positive effects to economic prosperity of a government policy that respects the fundamental freedoms are not without scientific bases. In an extensive study on the interlink between economic freedom, prosperity, and equality, Steve H. Hanke and Stephen J. K. Walters deduced that “enhancing liberty yields very large improvements in living standards.” 6 They have gathered plenty of evidence suggesting that greater prosperity requires a guarantee of greater economic freedom. Finally, they found countries that have committed to the rule of law and respect for human rights have income more equitably distributed among the citizenry.

          Prominent economists Dr. Begović summarized the effects of a vibrant democracy towards a country’s economy. He opined that democratic governments have “more stable and predictable institutions and tend to implement policies that are conducive to private enterprise”7, which eventually lead to higher economic growth. He added that such governments tend to “produce more public goods, invest more in human capital, maintain the rule of law, and protect private property rights.”8 Foreign investments are more likely to enter their market as “democracies have lower barriers to entry, promoting competition, and innovation.” 9

          All these studies point out that, indeed, liberty, prosperity and the rule of law are and will always be inseparable. Law is not a mere commodity but an institutionalization of the people’s deepest desire for dignity, stability, prolonged peace and prosperity. In a democracy, such desires are commonly expressed through their elected representatives.


Role of Lawyers in Safeguarding Liberty and Nurturing Prosperity Under the Rule of Law

          The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!10 This line was blurted out by Dick the Butcher, a character in the novel “Henry VI” by William Shakespeare. Coming from the mouth of a notorious criminal, one can surmise that even in 16th century England, lawyers were regarded as the keepers of peace and preservers of law and order. Truly, one only needs to look at the history of any democratic nation and he is sure to discover that lawyers were among, if not the prime movers of progressive social, political and even economic change.

          Lawyers have been consistent in their quest for the recognition and protection of human rights. Chief Justice Burger quoting Justice Jackson effectively described the role of lawyers when he said, “in every vindication of the rights of individuals and in every advance of human liberty in our history, the key figures were lawyers who were willing to risk their professional reputations and their futures in pursuit of an ideal.”11

          Nevertheless, while it is appropriate to recognize the positive roles a lawyer can play in order to safeguard liberty and nurture prosperity, the equal possibility that he would be on the other side of the equation is a perennial concern. A lawyer may always choose to use his skills to curtail liberty and impede prosperity. Former President Marcos, himself a prominent member of the bar, ruled under martial law. His act resulted in countless human rights violations and severely repressed the people’s liberties. This brings me to suggest that the ends towards which a lawyer would make use of his knowledge and training are ultimately determined by the dictates of his conscience, moral compass or the absence thereof.

          Therefore, the legal profession must watch its own ranks and see to it that its members would not use the law for their own personal consumption. They must recognize that they, together with the members of the bench, are mere instruments to propagate and enhance the rule of law. They must be the conduits that transport the law to reach the farthest shores of the archipelago! Indeed, lawyers must be missionaries!


A Self-assigned Duty

          I am now shifting to discuss how I promote the philosophy of liberty and prosperity as a student and how I plan to apply the same in my legal career.

          It is a well-known fact that a law student devotes a large chunk of his time studying his lessons and preparing for exams. However, this should not be an obstacle for him in espousing the principles of liberty and prosperity.

          In my case, I have been taking part in the information campaigns being led by the Office of the Dean and the Legal Aid office (OLA) of our college. These offices often invite speakers and conduct symposiums on different topics in law, which bring greater awareness among the audience of their rights.

          The OLA, in coordination with the officers of surrounding barangays, is also actively educating the people on their rights. Volunteer lawyers discuss laws that commonly concern the people such as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act. They also give free legal advice and help draft pleadings free of charge. The greatest benefit I get out of joining these activities is the awareness of the real situation of our people and the stimulus to think on how I can later on, as a lawyer, make a difference.

          In connection with this, let me digress a little. I submit that a law curriculum must include courses that expose law students to the contemporary social, political and economic conditions of the country. This would help remedy the disconnect between law schools and the sad realities faced by the vast majority of the Filipinos. It is my hope and belief that such exposure would stimulate the hearts and minds of the young students and make them think of solutions on how their legal prowess and the rule of law can improve the situation.

          As a concrete example, I would share my experience as a legal intern. This summer, incoming third year students were required to undergo an apprenticeship program. I chose to be part of the program in the Human Rights Victims Claims Board. My experience there was a wakeup call. I was exposed to the tragic experiences of my countrymen under martial law. I realized that no book on the subject can better explain the atrocities caused by martial rule than the victims of human rights violations themselves. One cannot help but be overwhelmed with the plight of the victims during the Marcos’ regime. Summary executions, torture, arbitrary detention, deprivation of property, rape and arson were commonplace. Due process was an alien concept.

          More than three decades have passed since the fall of Marcos yet injustice seems to continuously haunt many victims and their families. Many of the claimants, though with genuine stories to tell, may not be able to seek compensation and with it some form of closure to their misfortunes.

          I understand that the law requires some formalities, which are often too hifalutin and complex for our countrymen in the lowest stratum of society. But, where are the lawyers? Do we expect an illiterate human rights victim to know the formalities of an affidavit when he doesn’t even know how to write his name or affix his signature?

          There must be a way to make the word “justice” amount more than a mere hollowed word…sounds beautiful but beyond reach to those who need and deserve it the most.

          These stark difficult realities made me decide to follow a more conscientious path in my future legal career. I intend to devote as much time as I possibly can to help those in the countryside desperately needing legal assistance they cannot afford. This can be accomplished by conducting legal missions to be done in coordination with the local governments and the barangays. I intend to bring not just myself but others who may have the same passion. I can start with my batchmates, my organization mates both from law school and undergrad who have chosen a career in law.

          Lastly, as I find myself especially inclined to teaching, I intend to embark on an evangelical mission. Only it is not the words of God that I intend to preach but the rights of man, the rule of law and the principles of the founders of the Republic anchored on a society where people are meant to be free and prosperous. I intend to sow the seeds not in a church but in law schools where the minds of students are fresh, uncorrupted and full of idealism and in far-flung barangays where people are most vulnerable. I will try my best to teach law that is not detached to the realities of the Filipino society.

          Nothing can be more debilitating than ignorance, while knowledge and education lead to empowerment. The power of education cannot be overstated. It has been said that “the ability to provide for your needs, your family’s needs, and your community’s needs has always been tied to education.”12 Therefore, I will educate educators, students, parents, teachers and community leaders in the grassroots level and ask them to spread the word of the law.



          The government can be big and pose a great challenge to the people’s liberty and prosperity. Therefore, lawyers must partner with judges in their mission to safeguard liberty and nurture prosperity under the rule of law. Our very own Supreme Court has been doing its part to fulfil this mission through jurisprudential policies such as “heightened” or “strict” scrutiny13. “Laws and actions that restrict fundamental rights come to the courts with a heavy presumption against their validity.”14

          Still, in every litigation, a court cannot be the suing party and the judge of the controversy at the same time. There must always be a real-party-in-interest who would call the attention of the courts. Lawyers who are naturally well-versed in law are, therefore, in a unique position to point out the governmental irregularities that challenge the liberties of the people. No other profession is more expected nor equipped to take on this solemn duty than the legal profession.

          Law students have been warned that the trend15 of lawyering in the Philippines oftentimes paints an ugly picture. I say “non ducor duco”, which means I do not follow, I lead!” Borrowing the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”. The next generation of lawyers then should make and eventually leave a trail that leads to the empowerment of the people. This empowerment must come from their education, which is bound to safeguard their liberty and nurture the prosperity that goes hand in hand with it, all under a giant umbrella called the rule of law.

          As for lawyers, not all of them need to be good. It is impossible. But just as a flame need not be as huge as the empty dark room in order to light it up, a few good lawyers who speak true justice and spread the word are enough to light up our society so that it may believe and continue to believe that justice is alive as it is alive in me.


1Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban. Twin Beacons for the Judiciary. Retrieved from: http://pcij.org/blog/wp-docs/PanganibanTwinBeacons.pdf

2Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

3Driven by Hope: Economics and Theology in Dialogue. Retrieved from: https://www.etf.edu/en/event/driven-hope-economics-theology-dialogue/

4Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban. Twin Beacons for the Judiciary. Retrieved from: http://pcij.org/blog/wp-docs/PanganibanTwinBeacons.pdf

5ESTRADA vs. ESCRITOR, A.M. No. P-02-1651. August 4, 2003.

6Steve H. Hanke and Stephen J. K. Walters. Economic Freedom, Prosperity, and Equality: A Survey. Retrieved from: https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/1997/11/cj17n2-1.pdf

7Boris Begović. How Democracy Influences Growth. July 1, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.cipe.org/publications/detail/how-democracy-influences-growth



10A line from Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2, by William Shakespeare.

11Warren E. Burger. The Role of the Lawyer in Modern Society, 1975 BYU L. Rev. 581 (2013) Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/lawreview/vol1975/iss3/1

12Geoffrey Canada. Unmistakable Tie Between Education and Prosperity. Retrieved from http://www.bushcenter.org/catalyst/freedom/geoffrey-canada-education.html

13Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban (ret). Twin Beacons for the Judiciary. Retrieved from: http://pcij.org/blog/wp-docs/PanganibanTwinBeacons.pdf

14Bayan v. Ermita. GR No. 169838. Apr. 25, 2006. 488 SCRA 226.

15Speech delivered by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno during the Awarding of Scholarships under the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP) Scholarship Program. December 1, 2016. Retrieved from: http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/aboutsc/justices/cj-sereno/2016/CJ%20Sereno,%20December%201,%202016,%20Awarding%20Ceremony%20for%20Liberty%20and %20Prosperity%20Scholars,%20UP%20BGC,%20Taguig%20City.pdf