Posted by: nupl | November 11, 2007

Raising (hell at) the Bar by Maureen Gaddi dela Cruz

They call it “salubong,” just like the traditional procession before Easter Sunday mass when Roman Catholic devotees re-enact Christ’s resurrection. Indeed, the bar examinees may feel like they had just arisen from the dead, after months and years of rigorous studying and looking forward to a new life as full-fledged members of the legal profession.

The traffic, noise, and suffocation aside, I have nothing against the all-out festivities on the last day of the Bar exams. Let each school greet its heroes in as grand and boisterous a manner as possible, if this is their way of showing that they are proud of their own, and if it boosts the examinees’ morale. I suppose that when my turn comes, I too would want nothing better than to drink and party after surviving all four stages of the exams. Being welcomed by my friends with a marching band would make me feel immensely relieved, albeit prematurely triumphant. Seeing my school’s banner would instantly lift my spirits once I step out of the exam room for the last time.

Yet somehow, despite the unbridled celebration all along Taft Avenue and the free-flowing beer, the congratulatory cheers have a hollow ring. After the merrymakers depart and the littered streets are cleaned up, we find ourselves searching for relevance and truth – for answers to haunting problems that persist despite the committed efforts of the best scions of this noble profession. Beyond the prestige and the occasional histrionics, some of us may be missing the real meaning of the practice of law.

Early on, students in legal ethics classes are taught that public service is the essence of law. That above all else, a lawyer is duty-bound to promote justice, and that safeguarding the rights of the people should take precedence over monetary gain.

But for many (if not most) of those enrolled in law schools, such ideals are, at best, dim beacons in a far horizon. How can anyone worry about human rights violations when recitations and exams pose a much more immediate and ever-present threat to every student’s academic existence? Who can blame them if they fear the wrath of strict professors more than the machinations of corrupt politicians? Why should international economic issues be of such urgent concern when paying for one’s tuition is in itself a major financial dilemma?

In a nation where a college degree can no longer guarantee a decent-paying job, where influence and greed can decide the fate of entire communities, where the might of the rich trumps the rule of law, a legal education could easily be seen as the perfect ticket to wealth and power rather than the source of a grave social responsibility. This skewed perspective grows even more dangerous when the law itself is perversely twisted into a cruel instrument for oppression, and when those who are supposed to defend the marginalized are the very ones who perpetuate injustice.

As I walk away from the fading sounds of revelry and the lavish decorations now tattered to bits, I ask myself the same questions that I have constantly posed since I decided to follow this difficult path. Whether I can live up to the convictions that led me to make such a choice, and whether the profession that I have dedicated my life to can truly fulfill its sworn duty to society.

I can only hope that others are asking the same questions. That this time next year, the vigorous chants would not be mere cries of hubris, and that the trumpet blasts would also serve as a wake-up call. Let the grand “salubong” herald a concerted pledge among law students, lawyers, and others in the legal profession: to use their skills and knowledge in the service of the poor and the oppressed, to untiringly work for a just and humane society.

It’s time to raise the bar. #

Maureen dela Cruz, 26, is a student at the UP College of Law (Class of 2010) and an associate member of the newly-formed National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

Flyer of NUPL Unity StatementFlyer page 2 of NUPL Unity Statement

Flyer of NUPL Unity Statement distributed at the “Salubong” on September 30, 2007.

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