Kris-Crossing Mindanao

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“No master but law, no guide but conscience, no aim but justice.” With this dictum immortalized by the well-revered jurist, nationalist and former Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose Benedicto Luna (JBL) Reyes as theme, thousands of members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) will converge in Davao City starting Monday for a weeklong series of activities, including the 14th National Convention of Lawyers and the IBP’s 40th founding anniversary.

The unification of the Philippine bar on Jan. 16, 1973, came at a crucial juncture in our history. The idea of an integrated bar began taking shape at the time some of its members, led by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, were drawing up plans of placing the country under martial law, which for nearly two decades swept away any semblance of justice and democracy along its path.

The choice of the IBP’s convention and anniversary theme is indeed a fitting tribute to Justice JBL Reyes, who steered the then nascent organization as its founding president in 1973-1975, during the early years of the Marcos dictatorship. JBL Reyes and other legal titans like Jose W. Diokno, Jovito R. Salonga, Lorenzo M. Tañada, Arturo M. Tolentino and Ambrosio B. Padilla were among the strongest proponents of bar unification in the early 1970s. In later years, the triumvirate of JBL Reyes, Diokno and Tañada became the leading voices and guiding lights in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship and in the defense of human rights.

While the Supreme Court ruled that it was within its inherent power to order the bar integration, yet the IBP’s birth had the distinction of also getting the acquiescence of both the executive and Congress. On Sept. 17, 1971, Republic Act No. 6397 was approved, providing funds for the integration of the Philippine bar, which by then was composed of nearly a hundred voluntary bar associations and lawyers’ groups. Then, on May 4, 1973, invoking his rule-making power under martial law, Marcos himself issued Presidential Decree No. 181 constituting the IBP as a corporate body.

Prior to the bar integration in 1973, a Supreme Court-sanctioned plebiscite showed that of the 13,802 lawyers who cast their ballots, an overwhelming 12,855 (or 93.14 percent) supported a unified bar, as against some 662 (or 4.8 percent) who opposed it, and 285 (or 2.06 percent) who were noncommittal.

The bar unification, though, was realized not without a howl. Noted the high court then in its resolution: “It has been variously argued that in the event of integration government authority will dominate the Bar; local Bar associations will be weakened; cliquism will be the inevitable result; effective lobbying will not be possible; the Bar will become an impersonal Bar and politics will intrude into its affairs.”

Yet, the Court dismissed the “evils prophesied by (its) opponents.” In ordering the “integration of the Bar of the Philippines” effective Jan. 16, 1973, it stated: “In all the jurisdictions where the integrated Bar has been tried, none of the abuses or evils feared has arisen; on the other hand, it has restored public confidence in the Bar, enlarged professional consciousness, energized the Bar’s responsibilities to the public and vastly improved the administration of justice.”

In the four decades that followed, history has witnessed how the IBP as an organization and its members have acted in accordance with its commitment to “elevate the standards of the legal profession, improve the administration of justice and enable the bar to discharge its public responsibility more effectively.” While there were times that the IBP was seen as a defender of the status quo, there were times also that it took up the cudgels of the “oppressed and those who have less in law.” While it has produced many distinguished leaders who served the executive, Congress and the courts, it has also in its fold several “intellectual rebels”—like the late Romeo Capulong and the late Frederico Gapuz—who chose to become peoples’ lawyers till the end.

Needless to say, this year’s host chapter also played some significant roles in the IBP’s history. For example, recall that in 1985, three prominent Davao human rights lawyers—the late Laurente Ilagan (who also served as IBP-Davao City Chapter president in 1997-1999), Marcos Risonar and Antonio Arellano—were detained by virtue of Marcos’ Preventive Detention Action. Through the late Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion and JBL Reyes, the IBP, joined by other human rights lawyers and groups, petitioned the high court for the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. The case,  which became a rallying cause for lawyers against the Marcos dictatorship, is now known in constitutional law as the Ilagan Doctrine (Ilagan vs. Enrile, 139 SCRA 349), a ruling that is being abused by state forces even today to justify warrantless arrests of dissenters.

As “life begins” for the IBP, may the words of Justice JBL Reyes continue to be the “north star” of all the compañeras and compañeros. As it marches on toward its golden years, may the IBP work not only for the rule of law but, more importantly also, for the rule of justice to reign.

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40 DAYS: Yesterday, Jan. 13, was the 40th day after Supertyphoon “Pablo” ravaged most of the Davao region, resulting in the tragic death of around 2,000. This afternoon, Balsa Mindanao, a people’s mobilization for disaster response and climate justice, will lead a fluvial candle lighting-liturgy and call for justice for all victims of Pablo at the Bolton Riverside, Ecoland, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Assembly area is at Bankerohan Bridge, Matina, Davao City.

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