Erosion of values leading to the commercialization of the legal profession has taken a toll on the reputation of lawyersâ€”a stigma budding practitioners have to bear.
Bothered by the stigma, Boholano executive justice of the Court of Appeals Cebu Station, Gabriel Ingles, challenged lawyers to be instruments in the revival of the reputation of the legal profession by starting the change in the way they practice the profession.
Ingles was supposed to speak during the honoring of HNU new lawyers on Friday at the Bohol Tropics had it not been for another gale warning that prompted the Philippine Coast Guard to cancel trips from Cebu to Bohol.
The Boholano CA associate justice, however, sent his message through email to HNU College of Law Dean Tomas Abapo Jr. and asked the latter to read it as highlight of the event.
â€œWhile law is truly a noble profession, it is regrettable how society has come to perceive lawyers negatively.Â In sum, it is the lack of integrity, defined as the uncompromising adherence to ethical principles that brings dishonor and disrespect and causes damage to the nobility of the legal profession,â€ according to Ingles.
The Boholano associate justice cited the SWS 1985 National Public Opinion Surveys on the Legal Profession showing 57 percent of the respondents believed that many or most of the lawyers could be bought, while 39 percent said that none or only a few were corrupt.
In the survey, the respondents were asked to estimate the number of lawyers who could be bought or bribed, Ingles cited the SWS survey.
In a similar survey in 1993 â€œthere was a total negative score of 58 percent or practically the same as the 57 percent of 1985â€.
Ingles also cited that â€œthe respondents were also asked to estimate the number of lawyers who were trustworthy. In 1985 the majority or 55 percent were inclined to believe that none or only a few lawyers were trustworthy, while in 1993 it likewise showed a similar result, that is, 61 percent said none or only a few could be trustedâ€.
â€œHow then, do we, as members of the Bar, old and new, bring back the honor and nobility intrinsic to our profession? What can we, members of the Philippine Bar, do to change the current situation we are in—where perception of corruption is as malevolent as the fact of corruption itself,â€ Ingles said.
To address this, he challenged the lawyers to practice the ethical principles they learned from school.
â€œIf the cause is lack of integrity then the solution is to adhere to integrity at all times. In other words, we should not stop at merely learning the ethical principles underlying our profession during our college of law and bar examination days or paying them lip service, but more importantly as lawyers, we should be committed to them and practice them,â€ Ingless pointed out.
He cited the ethical principles that lawyers should â€˜help guard against the abuses and ills of the profession; provide the basis for the weeding out of the unfit and the misfit in the legal profession for the protection of the public; and raise the standard of the legal profession, encourage and enhance the respect for the law, assure an effective and efficient administration of justiceâ€™ as taught in Legal and Judicial Ethics by Ernesto Pineda.
â€œThus, the challenge we lawyers, old and new, face today is to be committed to and put to action integrity in everything we do as lawyers. And this is more compelling for us lawyers formed and trained in an educational institution run by the Society of the Divine Word because our common mission is to â€˜Witness to the Wordâ€™.Â We cannot be witnessing to the Word unless we integrate the Word in our practice of law by living by and being true witnesses to the ethics of our profession at all times,â€ according to Ingles.
He also pointed out that remembering the numerous Canons and rules that govern legal ethics in order to practice is actually â€œencapsulated under one law, Article 19 of the New Civil Code, which is the fundamental law on human relationsâ€.
â€œIt provides that â€˜Every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.â€™ Equally important is to be constantly reminded, according to an American Supreme Court Associate Justice, that: â€˜neither a judge nor a lawyer can properly discharge the great responsibilities that are his unless he displays, in a large measure, humility â€“ that is, freedom from arroganceâ€™. If we want change in our reputation as lawyers, the urgent call and challenge for all of us is to advance the cause of integrity in our profession,â€ according to Ingles.
He cited Supreme Court rulings expounding that the practice of law, â€œnot being limited to the conduct of cases or litigation in court but embracing any activity that involves knowledge and application of the lawâ€¦is not a money-making venture.
The Supreme Court had also made it clear in another ruling that â€œLaw advocacy is not capital that yields profits.Â The returns it births are simple rewards for a job well done or service renderedâ€.
â€œThis is not to say that financial concerns are not important to a lawyer. However, while we do not ignore such concern, priority must be given to some of the weightier responsibilities and burdens that attach to our role as lawyers,â€ Ingles pointed out.
It was also emphasized in another Supreme Court ruling that the practice of law is â€œreserved only to those who are academically trained in law and possessed of good moral character not only at the time of his admission to the Bar but even more so, thereafter to remain in the practice of law,â€ Ingless cited.