Black marks on the law profession
In the wake of the concerted efforts to remove Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno from office, some events in recent days have tarnished the esteem that justices of the Supreme Court and the law profession enjoy in our society.
A substantial portion of the oral arguments at the high court on the quo warranto case filed against Sereno was a virtual shouting match between her and Justice Teresita de Castro. They did not make any effort to hide their animosity toward each other.
As members of the institution tasked by the Constitution to decide on significant legal disputes in the country, Sereno and De Castro are held to a high level of civility and professionalism in resolving their official and personal differences, more so if the public is watching.
Without passing judgment on who caused the unpleasant scene, the incident provided a bad image of the high court and, collaterally, our judicial system.
The honorific “Your Honor” that traditionally precedes any address to a member of the judiciary lost its meaning. The so-called “gods of Padre Faura” have been found to have feet of clay.
The next time the Supreme Court issues a memorandum to the lower courts to unclog their dockets by encouraging litigants to amicably settle their differences and let reason, not emotion, guide their actions, the judges may be tempted to say, “Look who’s talking.”
The shouting match between the two justices traces its origin to the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Larry Gadon against Sereno at the House of Representatives. The hearing on the complaint turned out to be a comedy of errors for Gadon.
He swore in his complaint that he had personal knowledge of Sereno’s alleged impeachable acts, only to admit later that some of his allegations were hearsay or taken from outside sources. By lying, he committed an act that any lawyer worth his or her salt would not deliberately do, and yet no words of apology were heard from him.
As if this grievous offense were not enough, on the day of the oral arguments on the quo warranto, he called the people who were demonstrating in Sereno’s support “bobo” (dumb) and gave them the dirty finger.
He was lucky his boorish behavior was ignored by the demonstrators; in less serene circumstances, his actions would have drawn violent reaction and resulted in his lynching.
Although Gadon is not representative of the majority of lawyers in the Philippines, his unethical conduct during the impeachment hearings and oral arguments at the high court put the legal profession in serious disrepute in the public’s eye.
These incidents made the word “liar” rhyme with “lawyer” and showed that eight or more years of education in law does not guarantee its adequate understanding and proper application.
Given these circumstances—members of the high court engaging in a harsh, emotional exchange of words and a lawyer flouting the rules of truth and public decorum—an incoming law student cannot be faulted for wondering whether going through the rigors of an eight-year law education (plus a one-year bar review) would be worth the time, money and effort.
The practice of law is supposed to be a profession, not a business, with the high court looking over the lawyers to make sure they live up to their oath to give every person his or her share of law and justice.
The actions of Sereno and De Castro do not inspire confidence that the high court can be wholeheartedly trusted (or expected) to resolve disputes with cold neutrality and objectivity, or consistent with the message of the iconic Lady of Justice statue that adorns our courtrooms.
When a lawyer who is no spring chicken openly lies in public and feels no sense of remorse about that reprehensible act, it is not unreasonable to ask if there is still pride and prestige in becoming a lawyer.
It will be a sad day for morally upright and competent Filipino lawyers when their profession is mentioned in the same breath as or associated with the world’s oldest profession.
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