By Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President
I was a student activist at the University of the Philippines (UP) during the turbulent decade of the ’60s. The student movement made me see everything, including the practice of law, from a different perspective. After I graduated from the College of Law, I became a trial lawyer and argued not on behalf of corporations and rich clients, but for poor folks and perceived enemies of the Marcos regime, pro bono. For this I was arrested and detained without charges.
The struggle for justice during martial law was not confined to the courtrooms. I became part of several organizations whose members included human rights lawyers like myself, businessmen, workers, farmers, urban poor, women, and students who were building a united front against the dictatorial regime.
During those dark times, when opposing the regime meant putting oneself in harm’s way, I took courage in the words of former Justice J.B.L. Reyes, the great civil libertarian and defender of people’s rights during the Marcos regime: “No master but law, no guide but conscience, no aim but justice.”
Lawyers, to my mind, are both advocates and defenders of the rule of law and social justice. Without adherence and respect for the rule of law, there will be no order or stability, only chaos. Disrespect for the rule of law and the judiciary as an independent institution breeds instability, social and political strife, and impedes our progress as a nation.
The inability to bring to justice individuals who have arrogated to themselves the power to decide who lives or who dies is a growing concern. When crimes have been committed, there must be accountability. The failure to render justice to the victims and their kin could breed resentment and distrust, anger and instability.
In these times when violations of human rights have become the new normal and people are being misled, we need to underscore the role and responsibility of lawyers as agents of justice. We need to produce lawyers who not only know their law but are competent practitioners, but also recognize the indispensable role they play in society.
During my term as mayor of Makati, we already had plans to establish a school of law at the University of Makati (UMak). We had several meetings with representatives from the UP College of Law but the program did not push through.
I returned to the practice of law after my term as Vice President ended. One time, I was fondly recalling our plan to establish a law school with UMak President Tomas Lopez Jr. and several others when the idea to revive the establishment of the UMak School of Law cropped up. The ball started rolling, so to speak, and almost a year later, I was invited by the UMak administration to help in securing an accreditation from the Legal Education Board (LEB).
The UMak School of Law opened last August 7, 2017. The faculty includes law professors from UP, Ateneo, San Beda College, and De La Salle University (DLSU).
Our vision for the school is to develop future Filipino lawyers who are excellent in both the theory and practice of law and encourage a culture of innovation through programs that are responsive to the times.
The UMak School of Law is the only law school offering full scholarship for an entire batch. Tuition and miscellaneous fees are waived and benefits such as semestral book stipend and monthly living allowance are also awarded. Out of hundreds of applicants, 33 were accepted. One of them is Jonah May Enayon, a certified public accountant and a proud product of the Makati city educational system.
Jonah May is a resident of barangay West Rembo. She finished her primary education at West Rembo Elementary School and her secondary education at Fort Bonifacio High School. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in BS Accountancy from UMak. Although already employed, being a lawyer has always been her dream, and the School of Law offered her the chance to fulfill her dream.
Helping students like Jonah May achieve her dream is a commitment the city government makes to every public school student of our city.
How important are lawyers in our society? What role do they play? In my speech before the Integrated Bar of the Phillipines (IBP) in 2011, I said that as lawyers, we act as midwives when the courts give birth to justice. We breathe life into the Constitution, the bill of rights, and the rule of law in our appearances in court to defend our clients’ rights and advocate their cause.
I told the IBP that individually, we must endeavor to become a trusted counselor, an efficient provider of expert and professional advice, an able partner with the courts in the delivery of justice, a respectable member of our community. Collectively, we must work to become a force for good and positive change.
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