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With Due Respect

Just and humane lawyers in the DiGi Age

The lawyers’ relevance in the digital age (I prefer to call it DiGi Age) was my theme during the awarding ceremonies honoring the bar topnotchers, scholars, valedictorians, and winners of the dissertation-writing contest of the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity (FLP) held via Zoom on June 12. May I summarize it, thus:

In her commencement address at Harvard a year ago, Lucila Takjerad recalled that in 1994 when she was seven years old, her mother — while walking in a public market in their hometown in Algeria — learned that certain families were allowed to escape the raging civil war there and emigrate to France. All they had to do was to write their names on a list.

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Her poor mother desperately wanted to emigrate but, being illiterate, she could not write her name. Dejected, she walked away. Fortunately, a man chased her, got her name, and scribbled it on the list. As a result, her family was transported to France where she was able to study and later graduate from Harvard.

She recalled that Harvard graduates were asked to do their best for the world, a task that was noble and worthwhile. But her graduation message was simple; she wanted to spread the gospel of doing little things. For sure, she recollected, the man did not know the magic he created by simply writing her mother’s name on the list. So, she concluded her much-applauded speech in this wise: “Fellow graduates, of course, do the most you can do: your education and legacy demand it. But also, do the least you can do. Because, the least you can do might turn out to be the most significant.”

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Upon learning of Lucila’s speech, I was reminded of my own impoverished beginnings. I peddled newspapers and shined shoes to finish my basic schooling, sold bibles and textbooks to support my college education, and studied hard to maintain my tuition scholarship.

My father, a high school graduate and lowly government employee, died when I was still in pre-law and my unemployed mother, who finished only elementary school, passed away during my senior year in law. I was stranded; I had no money to pay for my bar review.

Just then, an old friend during my student leadership days paid for my bar review on one condition—that I should be among the Top Ten. The condition was simple but very stressful to the extent that I was hospitalized during the first Sunday of the exams. I nearly quit, but my law dean at FEU, Dr. Jovito R. Salonga, would not hear of it and urged me to go on. Fortunately, with God’s grace, I still made it to sixth place.

My friend, now deceased, never knew how his simple gesture of paying for my pre-bar expenses ushered me to the noble legal profession and, eventually, to the highest judicial post.

Certainly, you too, like Lucila and me, must have received seeming little things that have twisted and turned your lives. And I hope that the little things you got from the FLP will have a lasting impact on your journey to be the new leaders of the DiGi Age of 5G technology and artificial intelligence.

The financial grants, the interviews at the inner sanctum of the Supreme Court, the tough questions of our judges, the midnights you spent writing your dissertations, and the bits of kindness of our secretariat are valuable little things that may have twisted and turned your careers.

Conversely, let the FLP Scholars Society spur you to offer little things to those who will follow you, who will be applying for future scholarships, or who will be writing dissertations. Please give them bits of your knowledge and wisdom. Tell them your experiences and challenges.

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And among you, let the Society be your way of giving back and of sharing excellence, integrity, and patriotism. Let it be your common vehicle for riding into the DiGi Age.

Because of their ability to apply laws more speedily than any lawyer or judge, DiGi Age robots, some say, will eliminate lawyers. I disagree. I dare say that lawyers bred in liberty and prosperity will not be outdated or outdone by DiGi Age robots because they, and only they, have the heart and the wisdom to dispense compassionate justice especially when the law is inadequate, unclear, or unconscionable. Truly, only lawyers with a heart and with a conscience can dispense empathetic justice in a just and humane society.

In 10 or 20 years, you will be the leaders of the DiGi Age. I may no longer be around by that time, but my spirit will be hovering above you, behind you, and beside you, smiling and contented, that I have brought you a few little things that made a vital difference in twisting and turning your lives and careers to build a just and humane society under the rule of law in the DiGi Age.

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