The Supreme Court has enjoined Filipino lawyers not to exploit a person’s ignorance” and should not refuse “legal assistance to any person by reason of poverty.”
Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo stressed that lawyers should instead “should look after the disadvantaged and the marginalized, in order to give them a voice, to give them the chance to be equal with others, if not in life, at least in law.”
Gesmundo made the statement in his speech during the four-day legal aid summit that ended Wednesday in Bacolod City.
The summit is focused on two constitutional mandates—full protection of human rights and no denial of legal assistance to any person by reason of poverty.
The top magistrate said the nobility of the legal profession “as it is used to secure peace and order in society through the preservation of the rule of law.”
“It carries with it a public dimension. As it is involved in the administration of justice, it exists for the society and the public in general,” he added.
He pointed out that the legal profession is a public service. “It is a service to others in need of justice. It is a service to others in search of truth,” he said.
In a statement, the SC’s Public Information Office said that more than 200 representatives are in attendance in the four-day summit.
The participants are from the SC, Philippine Judges Association, Department of Justice, Department of Migrant Workers, Commission on Human Rights, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Philippine Bar Association, Philippine Association of Law Schools, Free Legal Assistance Group, Alternative Law Groups, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Public Attorney’s Office, Legal Education Board, University of the Philippines-Office of Legal Aid, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, several law firms, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), European Union GoJust II Programme (GOJUST), and The Asia Foundation Programme (TAF).
In his message, SC Senior Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor F. Leonen—chairperson of the SC’s Committee on Access to Justice/Underserved Areas—stressed to the participants to make the law relevant by taking time “to reflect critically on what we do, and proceed with conscious, deliberate, and critical effort to practice law, and also for us to decide our cases.”
“Perhaps, then, with the collective efforts of the Members of the Court, we can provide more than just the rule of law, but the rule of justice,” Leonen said.
“Perhaps, then, we do not contribute to the disempowerment of the already weak, marginalized, and the oppressed. We do not maintain inequality. Perhaps, then, we can lead by defining for the profession the possibility that law is no longer for the powerful but rather a tool to truly liberate our people and cause major discomfort for those who stand for greed and are corrupt,” he said.
Leonen also urged the participants to consider 10 points in the area of legal aid. Among these are: “Legal aid or access to justice should never be under the umbrella of only one organization. There should be interaction, interorganizational coordination and referrals, but no one group dominating the rest for access to justice.”
“We should, however, have some common goals. For example, addressing corruption. Exposing and prosecuting these cases, and analysis of its various reincarnation should be part of access to justice. This is the time that we protect all whistleblowers,” Leonen said.
“Clinical legal education must provide more space or accommodate those who would like to do actual critical research and policy advocacy. Our law schools should reform. Legal education should become heterodoxical. The legal academe should be empowered, and the law curriculum should be seriously reviewed,” he added.
According to Leonen, the continued research on the impact of our laws and procedure on our ability to provide justice should be more scientific and empirical.
“This requires also an understanding of the requirements of justice, as well as access from a philosophical, historical, sociological, and economic point of view,” he said.
“The legal profession should be encouraged to be sensitive to and evolve more public interest cases in the proper way. This requires the skills to communicate with and empower those who are marginalized and oppress,” he added.
“The dockets of our courts, especially the Supreme Court, should become more rational to make space for deeper analysis and rethinking of many of the worn-out doctrines that have contributed to impoverishment, inequality, marginalization, and oppression,” the SC justice said.
The SC’s PIO said the holding of the summit is in line with the objective of the High Court to conduct a holistic evaluation of all legal aid programs nationwide under its Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 (SPJI).
“As the strengthening of legal aid initiatives is one of the objectives of the SPJI, the Supreme Court commits itself to review various public interest legal services, alternative legal programs, developmental legal aid, and other legal assistance programs of all law groups,” the statement stressed.