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When I made a choice

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The question is always asked: Why do you want to become a lawyer?

To a law student, this is probably either: a) their favorite question, which will allow them to expound on why they are passionate about the law, or b) the most depressing question, because it will lead to a narration and description of their current life of misery in law school.

For me, the answer can be traced back to a nine-year-old kid attempting to adequately respond to the question always asked in school: What do you want to be when you grow up? Since the third grade, my answer has always been: I want to be a lawyer. This answer was not brought about by any deep or philosophical reflection on the meaning of life and on being a woman for others. To my nine-year-old self, I knew that I wanted to become a lawyer because: 1) I was not good in math, hence managing a business didn’t seem too enticing as it had to deal with numbers; (2) I didn’t like science, hence becoming a doctor or scientist was out of the question; and (3) I liked English and history, hence becoming a lawyer seemed to be a logical and ideal career to pursue.

All throughout high school and college, I held on to that dream and it was my answer to every imaginable “career-related” question in school.

After college I was swept into the 2010 election campaign and subsequently received a job offer I could not possibly refuse from one of the best and kindest persons I will probably ever know, in one of the most controversial and high-profile government agencies in the country. At this point, the dream of becoming a lawyer was still in my mind, but I could not actively pursue it because I knew that I could never leave my boss.

After his death in a plane crash a year ago today, an accident that got the whole country glued to media reports on the search-and-rescue operations, his funeral, and then a remembrance of his life, I was caught up in the craziness of transitioning an office and dealing with the desire to make sure that what my boss started would not be for naught.

After a few months I decided to pursue my dream again. I made a decision, much to the dismay of many people I love, to leave the government for now and pursue this life for the next four years of codals, cases, highlighters, and coffee-runs.

Why do I want to be a lawyer?

I remember sitting in a meeting between my boss and a very admirable and recognized advocacy/constitutional lawyer to discuss concerns on the implementation of mining policies in the country. As is typical in any government policy, the crux of the problem is the implementation and getting all the agencies to agree to do something. I found that the most striking part of the discussion was when my boss embarked on a discussion of social justice. Let me paraphrase a bit, and I hope I give justice to what he said:

Social justice is when there is a gap in the law vis-à-vis implementation, and the court will rule in favor of the marginalized sector.

The legal process, if correctly used, is a tool to help those who suffer injustice, particularly the poor. It is more than a body of rules. Harold Berman defined it as “a living process of allocating rights and duties” to resolve conflict and create channels of cooperation, because ultimately, the law is about people.

I’ve heard in numerous occasions and debates among friends the argument that we don’t need any more lawyers in this country. After working in the government for almost three years, I actually saw the grounds of this argument. But this I would like to claim: We have more than enough lawyers in this country, but we are in dire need of good lawyers who will speak for those who cannot be heard, and lawyers who can reimagine the endless possibilities of the law to make the lives of others better.

I still hope that this was the right choice. In the words of my former boss: Lagi  mong  hanapin  ang  saysay  sa  lahat  nang  gagawin  mo. Always find meaning in everything you do.

I remember him saying in a speech once that looking back on his life, he was amazed to see how it all made sense, thanks to his Creator. In his exact words: “Ang  galing  talaga  ng  Diyos  dahil  nag-connect the dots  ang  buhay  ko.” He said he never thought that his initial job—counting cans in a multinational company—would make sense, or that the impulsive decision he made to go home to his province after the 1986 Edsa Revolution would be the start of his long career in public service. I’m sure that up to his death, he never expected that he would be remembered in heroic proportions for living a simple life with his family, for a life dedicated to serving this country.

I always hold on to this story when I am in doubt. It’s my way of hoping and believing that this will hopefully make sense, and that I am where I am called to be, in preparation for whatever it is I am being called to do.

For me, the question “why do you want to be a lawyer?” is just as important as the question of “how?”  The “how?” is the tedious and excruciating part. It is the four years of law school and seven months of preparation for the bar exam. But it is the “why?” that will get me through the daily choice to wake up at 6 a.m. every day to start reading and to say no to weekday movie-runs, through missed dinners and biweekly highlighter refills.

A year ago today, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo died in a plane crash in the waters off Masbate. For the nation, it was the day we lost the best president we never had. For me, that was the day I chose to continue to fight for what he stood for and believed in.

I want to become a good lawyer because I choose to continue to fight for what Sec Jesse started, equipped with the knowledge and skill of the legal profession, to do what I know he would have wanted me to do.

Sec Jess, I hope I can make you proud. Your life has ended, but your legacy will live on.

Joan dela Cruz, 24, is a freshman at Ateneo Law School. She worked at the Department of Interior and Local Government with Secretary Jesse Robredo and then with Secretary Mar Roxas. She is now a full-time law student.


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  • jHdz

    our society is packed up with doctors and lawyers who are not even paying the right income taxes. government system are full of lawyers who have been idealists like you but have been eaten up by the rotten system of corruption. those who have been appointed at the higher position in the bureaucracy are lawyers or may have probably taken up law. lawyers are hired by big businesses because of their brods, compadres and panyeros in various agencies. their main purpose to make a work around and circumvent the law in favor of these entities.

    what our economy needs are managers and educators. in a mismanaged bureaucracy we need people at the top to manage the implementation of policies. we need good educators that will form the young minds and remind them the value system that the Filipinos used to have.

  • tarikan

    Ms. Joan dela Cruz, you made palatable my otherwise nauseous opinion of a lawyer especially a practicing litigation lawyer. Sometimes one wonders where these god-forsaken characters graduated from? From a fine law school or from a tough neighborhood specializing in criminal activities, the line is blurred. Good luck, Ms. Joan. Prove me wrong in my usual opinion of lawyers. God bless you.

  • JLFS

    Lawyers are supposed to apply the law equally to rich and poor. On personal level its hard to accept that a lawyer can do something to favor the poor regarding application of the law. Laws can be enacted to favor the poor like subsizing schooling of students or exempting laborers from taxes. But then you don’t need to be a lawyer to be a lawmaker. Maybe, giving free services for the poor is what a lawyer can do to help the poor.



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