“Together, we must restore the faith of our people in our Justice System and the Rule of Law.”
This was the message of Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III to the new graduates of the University of the Philippines College of Law, as the former Bar topnotcher urged the aspiring lawyers to contribute to efforts to reform the country’s flawed Justice System.
Speaking on Monday at the commencement exercises of his alma mater — which conferred on Pimentel a Doctorate of Laws degree, honoris causa — Pimentel challenged UP Law graduates to be faithful to the Lawyer’s Oath and to “do the right thing” amidst the temptations brought about by “money, influence, and power of the privileged sector of our society.”
Pimentel explained that as “Iskolar ng Bayan” (Scholars of the People), UP Law’s new graduates “are expected to repay the Filipino People’s generosity and support by aligning your work as a lawyer and your life as a citizen of this Republic towards the goals and aspirations of the Filipino People.”
The senator from Mindanao, who graduated from UP Law in 1990 and topped the Bar examinations that same year, urged the class of 2017 to help address the flaws of the Philippine justice system—particularly the long delays in the resolution of cases.
“People often experience what I call a double-whammy: very long cases and, at the end of the long process, a wrong decision. Due process, which used to be defined as a day in court, has become a decade in court,” lamented Pimentel.
Pimentel cited the 2015 Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project (WJP), which said that the delay in resolving criminal cases and the duration of civil cases in the country are the most significant or serious problems of the civil and criminal justice in the Philippines, as cases can take nearly two decades to come to a final resolution.
The same study, Pimentel said, cites civil and criminal justice in the Philippines as the worst aspects of the Rule of Law in the country—even worse than corruption in government.
According to Pimentel, “justice is denied either through lengthy delays or the outright sale of decisions. Because of this, the law is no longer seen as a majestic tool for justice, but as a deplorable tool for the powerful to abuse the powerless.”
Lawyers, Pimentel stressed, can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.
“You will be born as lawyers into a world where lawyers are more reviled than admired. Reviled for the perception that their knowledge of the law is being used to further injustice and to enrich themselves even as they may also be admired for their knowledge of the law,” said Pimentel.
“Do not be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. When you practice your profession never allow yourself to be used as a bribe-giver. Reject the reasoning that since the other side is doing it, then you should also be doing it in order to level the playing field,” implored the Senate President.
“That is simply a palusot to do an illegal act and violate our professional ethics in order to get what one wants with the least amount of effort and inconvenience. Always remember, the end does not justify the means. Just be faithful to the Lawyer’s Oath. Do no falsehood, do not promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor delay any man for money or malice.”