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Life as a public attorney

One Saturday in August 2018, at four in the morning, I was at a Cubao bus terminal waiting for a ride to La Union. I needed to confer with a client in person because of an urgent matter regarding her case, but having barely finished schooling, she could not grasp my explanations over the phone. She could not go to Manila to see me either because of old age, financial constraints, and ailing health. Sadly, after waiting for hours, I realized she wasn’t coming. And so, I stood in the rain in front of this sari-sari store by the roadside and waited for a bus back to Manila with a heavy heart.

Another case had me leaving the office still in my barong and carrying my case files. It was late at night, and I had walked for an hour on this street somewhere in San Juan looking for my client’s house. I had knocked on several gates and talked to several people but still could not find the address. Later, I figured out that my client’s house has long been gone, replaced by a low-rise condominium in the old address I was looking for. Sadly, I was not able to file my client’s petition because it lacked her signature.

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Then, there was that time when I had to go to the New Bilibid Prison but couldn’t find a ride where the buses usually loaded passengers. Maybe the community quarantine had affected public transport? I had no car so when a habal-habal rider approached me in front of SM North Edsa and offered a ride, I said yes despite the vehicle being kolorum (out of line). There I was under the scorching sun, clinging on to this motorcycle rider on my way to Muntinlupa, with only a white kerchief tied around my neck to prevent windburn.

I now recall these memorable experiences with a smile. As a lawyer for the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), I’ve realized that there are things in life that are difficult but still had to be done. Because if we don’t, no one else would.

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Dec. 1, 2021 marked my fifth year as a PAO lawyer. In those five challenging years, I have learned so much about the legal profession—stuff that go beyond the letter of the law, the decisions by the Gods of Padre Faura, or the intricacies of legal procedures. More than the required knowledge and skills, I have learned to have patience and an open mind in understanding people from different walks of life. People with different personalities and needs, people who would sometimes bring out the best and worst in me. These are people who, in their search for justice, have their own version of truth and so many interesting stories to tell.

As I look back on those five years, I can only think of one word to describe my journey: fulfilling. I have always been hopeful, inspired, and challenged in every case that I handle. I always think of the life that I’ve touched and that touched my life as well. I’ve always strived to give my clients the kind of representation they deserve. That’s why every time I manage to save someone from jail, fight for someone’s land, or prove that someone had been unjustly dismissed from work, I am overjoyed. It’s not so much because I’ve been proven right, but because this battle is a battle of small people, those who had to borrow jeepney fare from their neighbor to be able to attend the hearing or report to our office. In return for our service, they try to offer us crabs, rice cakes, a buko pie, because these are all they can afford.

Every time I could no longer bear the overwhelming weight of my responsibilities, or whenever I feel that the world is asking too much of me, I tell myself over and over that I need to continue, I have to go on. To regain my fading strength, I only need to recall that time when I was waiting for the Bar exam results inside the Quiapo Church at 12 noon on May 3, 2016, where I promised God that should I make it and become a lawyer, I will not fail Him.

I will not fail those who have lost hope, those who need hope, and seek hope. It doesn’t matter if I have to go back and forth to La Union, knock on strange gates looking for my client, or ride a habal-habal under a merciless sun, I will continue to fulfill my oath as a lawyer and do as my conscience says to give these people hope.

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Noliver F. Barrido works as public attorney III at the PAO Central Office-Special and Appealed Cases Service. His assigned courts are the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, and the Office of the President.

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TAGS: Commentary, Noliver F. Barrido, public attorney’s life
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