VP Binay speech on the legal profession and the rule of law

Full text of the speech of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay during the Philippine Trial Lawyers Association, Inc. 34th Anniversary Celebration, Centennial Hall, Manila Hotel, 2 March 2012 (http://ovp.gov.ph/speeches.php?id=510):

Just like salt, the legal profession never loses its flavor, but among all the professions, it seems to be the current flavor of the season.

Only a couple of days ago, close to 2,000 successful bar examinees joined the profession. And for the past seven weeks at least, the nation’s attention has been riveted on the work of lawyers in the ongoing senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona of the Supreme Court.

Thanks to the trial’s live television coverage, we have seen what good trial lawyers can do to turn an otherwise boring afternoon into an exciting one, and give some reigning media celebrities a run for their money on Facebook and Twitter.

The presiding judge of the impeachment court, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, is 88, and the lead defense counsel, retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, is 83, but they have become the rock stars of the trial even among the young, because of their demonstrated courtroom skills. Both have long careers as trial lawyers.

I hear of many young people thinking of going into the study and practice of law because of these two veterans. Many law deans expect the enrolment in their law schools to jump after this trial. And not a few young lawyers could end up running for congress next year in the hope of acting as prosecutors at the next impeachment trial, if there is another.

As everyone knows we have become a nation of lawyers. We have one of the highest populations of lawyers, of any country, on a per capita basis. And they have various fields of specialization.

But among the lawyers who have earned the highest praise of the public and their peers, three basic categories stand out----the learned judge or jurist whose decisions have enriched jurisprudence, the writer of books whose work has enlarged the breadth and depth of legal scholarship and has contributed to promoting the law as literature, and the skilled trial lawyer who has made courtroom trial a joy to behold, and whose victories are legend.

For 34 years now, the PTLA has been the home of our trial lawyers. And some of the best are with us this evening. It will be the honor and distinction of this organization to produce and nourish many more of them.

Under the dynamic leadership of Pete Principe of Bulacan, ably supported by the newly inducted national officers for 2011-2013, I have no doubt that PTLA will carry on the torch of leadership bequeathed by PTLA’s “36 founding fathers.”

I speak as a humble PTLA member. Yes, that’s right, I am a bonafide PTLA member. My name is listed as number 95 in our roster of more than 700 members. And as such, I am proud of PTLA’s history and confident of its great future.

During the critical days of Martial Law, when the fight for civil liberties demanded the best and the most from our lawyers, the needy found it not only in the Integrated Bar Of the Philippines, but above all in our association of trial lawyers.

The best among us organized various groups precisely to champion the fight. Thus were born such organizations as the Free Legal Aid Group (FLAG) under the great nationalist Jose Wright Diokno, the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, Nationalism, Inc. (MABINI) led by the human rights lawyer Augusto “Bobbit” Sanchez, and, of course, the PTLA under the tireless and pro-poor Procopio “Jun” Beltran.

And while those in charge tried to cover the nation with dark power, the light of justice burned stubbornly from those lawyers organizations.

We have since won that struggle. But the fight for justice and liberty is never permanently won. It goes on forever.

Even in a democracy, the threats to justice and freedom are never permanently subjugated. They could arise, even when least expected, not necessarily from the usually predictable sources, but even from sources that are supposed to protect and defend justice and freedom.

This is what we, lawyers, must always watch out for. We may sometimes need to rest from our labors, but it seems that even in a democracy we can never afford to sleep anymore. Or that if we must sleep at all, we must do so with one eye open.

I began by speaking to you about the fascinating performance of our trial lawyers at the impeachment trial. There are no two conflicting opinions about it. The verdict seems unanimous in their favor.

But we are not simply to enjoy watching the performance of our colleagues at the bar. As lawyers we are expected to do something more. Much more.

We are to stand as sentinels over the health and vigor of our constitutional democracy and its institutions.

We are to stand as neutral observers in every proceeding in which we are not participants, but we should be prepared to intervene whenever the balance of justice and fairness shifts in favor of power, and the rule of law and due process are threatened.

Justice ---“impartial justice,” at that, as the senator-judges have sworn to uphold---must always be the object and fruit of our exertions in the law. We should never have reason to repeat Cicero’s reproach that “The more law, the less justice”---summum ius summa iniuria.

Our fundamental commitment to the law is to make sure that at no time should it ever work injury or injustice to anyone.

For as Black says, lex nemini injuriam, lex minimi operatur iniquum---the law does injury to no one, the law works injustice to no one.

For this reason, I commend the PTLA for making clear its position on the inviolability of the constitution in the ongoing trial, particularly with respect to the rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights, and the separation of powers among the three branches of government.

We cannot depart from due process and the rule of law without renouncing our constitution. The impeachment process should be first and foremost an exercise in the rule of law, never a way of bending the law, or asserting the false supremacy of one branch of government over another, or putting one branch in conflict with another.

We cannot repeat too much or too often the constitutional verity that while the house of representatives has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment, and the senate the sole power to try and decide such cases with finality, free from the interference by either the executive or the judiciary, the unique autonomy of that process does not place it beyond the reach of judicial review, where there has been a grave abuse of discretion, amounting to an excess or lack of jurisdiction, which the supreme court alone is empowered and obliged by the constitution to resolve.

I am particularly delighted to hear the view that where the Supreme Court has spoken on any constitutional issue, it is the duty of the two other branches of our tripartite government to comply with its ruling, and not subject their compliance to a vote.

This is a view that seems to have become plain even to our common people, not to lawyers alone. And against any attack, we must defend it with all our integrity and ability as lawyers.

Finally, I share the firm conviction of the officers and members of PTLA and the general public that a fair and impartial trial----and only a fair and impartial trial---- of Chief Justice Corona, unclouded by suspicions or actual accusations of misconduct and improper dealing on the part of any participant in the proceedings, or on the part of those whose legitimate right and duty are simply to observe the proceedings without seeking to intervene in the outcome, would be a great boon to the nation.

Thank you all once again, and my most sincere