I am impressed by the essays on liberty and prosperity under the rule of law written by the 11 LibPros scholars (named in last Sunday’s column). Here is a sample, an abstract of the essay of Ateneo de Manila’s Sean Borja, in his own words:
Prosperity. In the age of millennials, where choice is virtually unlimited, choosing a career path is a quarterlife crisis waiting to happen. Luckily for me, that was not the case; as early as my junior year in high school, I was fairly set on becoming a lawyer.
While I was spared the conundrum of discovering what I wanted to do in life, however, vocational certainty did not mean understanding. I relished building my hopes and dreams and yet I had a rather rudimentary grasp of what lawyers did. My high school teachers told me that lawyers were all about fighting for justice. But what is justice? What do lawyers fight for?
Our very own Constitution, in Sec. 9, Art. II, dares to define what justice entails. It commands the state to “promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation, and free the people from poverty.”
By and large, this constitutional mandate is designed to put the plight of the underprivileged at center stage of governmental policy and to rally the State’s awesome machinery to eliminate inequities in society. Prosperity for all: that is the goal of social justice.
Our Constitution recognizes that our nation’s poorest are not free. They are bound by the chains of poverty, and lack the very voice to espouse their own cause.
Viewed in this light, our earlier conception of justice becomes a little bit clearer: justice is not just about giving. Justice must also be enabling. In the words of our Supreme Court, “Social justice does not champion division of property or equality of economic status; what it and the Constitution do guaranty are equality of opportunity, equality of political rights, equality before the law, equality between values given and received, and equitable sharing of the social and material goods on the basis of efforts exerted in their production.” Justice goes beyond benevolence; it requires, instead, an interplay between prosperity and liberty. One without the other would simply not do.
Liberty. How do we go about attaining liberty? I believe we can begin by hearing out stories.
“Little Prince” Lander Solano is a 9-year-old boy who sells kesong puti to passersby along Filmore St., Makati. He negotiates alleys, flyovers, and underpasses every day—all in the company of thieves—just to make a living.
Little Prince’s mother also sells kesong puti behind the Cash & Carry along Osmeña Highway, where the family spends the night whenever their goods remain unsold. He is currently out of school, but one day, he said, he will take up engineering and build homes, towers, and dreams.
Little Prince’s narrative is but one of myriad stories that need to be heard. This is where, I believe, the legal profession and advocacy come in. We claim to live under the rule of law, but without the instrumentalities to bridge the gap between established rights and the underserved, the deep-seated inequalities that we have today will endure for generations to come.
Rule of law. Thus, a discussion of Art. II of the Constitution is a highfalutin’, largely academic exercise unless it can be concretized and brought down to the level of the common tao. And so I believe this is the lawyer’s task: a lawyer must stand at the helm of the law and, through the strength of advocacy and the power of his/her voice, turn liberty and prosperity into concrete reality.
It has been said that the rule of law is the great equalizer and yet, without lawyers, the law is rendered fictional and out of reach, especially for those at the fringes of society.
Prosperity and liberty under the rule of law: these are laudable goals but without agency to bridge them to the beneficiaries, a wide chasm will continue to isolate the underserved. And so this is the lawyer’s mission: s/he must learn the power of advocacy—learn to harness it, and become the voice that resonates when others go silent.
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