Former member of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, former judicial clerk for the Phillippines Supreme Court, and current graduate student at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame
Profile by Micaela Cayton Garrido
This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
November 2000. After a ten-hour trek through the mountains I found myself deep in the heart of the province of Mindoro in the Philippines. I and other members of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) were there to lecture on indigenous people's rights before a tribal community called the Mangyans. Mangyan land, though protected under law, was frequently trespassed, and the natural resources it held were exploited with impunity. Illegal loggers, for example, would ravage their forests. After my lecture, the tribal elder asked me: "Attorney, what is the use of knowing the law when there is a gun pointed to your head?".
November 2003. Three years later, I asked myself a similar question: What use is the law if it fails to prevent unlawful acts? Indeed, if it is even invoked to abet them? As a judicial clerk at the Supreme Court of the Philippines, I had the privilege of witnessing up close how the judiciary was pilloried by elements out to destabilize the government. Through the use, or rather, misuse of the law, opposition elements in the House of Representatives had successfully filed an impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Although the filing of the complaint is patently prohibited by our Constitution, and despite the fact that the accusations underlying the complaint are baseless and malicious, the complaint had prospered because it served the ends of certain politicians. It is the nation that suffers as a result: the ensuing instability had caused Philippine stocks and exchange rates to plummet.
I believe that law is supposed to sow order in chaos and create a climate susceptible to development; however, events around the world show how the law can be twisted to do exactly the opposite. But, at the same time, vigilant citizens can take steps to uphold the true intent of the law. I and other Supreme Court employees did just that. We demonstrated our support for our maligned Chief Justice through a prayer vigil. Even President Arroyo and most of her cabinet members attended the event, which succeeded in drawing attention to the unjustness of the impeachment complaint.
I grew up in a home where the value of public service was instilled through my parents and grandparents who have worked for the Philippine government. Growing up, I participated in projects designed to reach out to the poor. In college, I found my calling while working with CRIBS Philippines, a halfway home for abandoned babies and sexually abused girls. My constant interaction with these victims for three years strengthened my commitment to work in the service of others.
While in law school, I devoted most of my free time as a volunteer in the Ateneo Human Rights Center and the Ateneo Legal Aid Office. At the AHRC, we focused on empowerment through human rights education, research and publication, while at the LAO we provided free legal representation catering to indigents or those from marginal sectors. My law school thesis manifested my convictions: it advocated for the expansion of crime victims' rights. I argued that the Philippines needed to adopt legislation in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations' Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and the Abuse of Power.
Immediately after taking the Philippine Bar exams, I chose to serve as a government employee, working for the Supreme Court as a judicial clerk. I assisted in handling cases dealing with constitutional, criminal, civil, and labor law issues. With this line of work I felt a sense of relevance knowing that what I worked for eventually became binding jurisprudence for the nation.
Four years of law school have taught me how the law should work, while my experiences in public service in the Philippines have taught me how the law is often kept from working. Despite my frustrations, I consider these experiences invaluable. Knowing how the law can be stymied or twisted only strengthens my commitment to use the law as an instrument of peace and development. Now, as an MA student at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, I am further tying my understanding of the law to this commitment.
I am motivated by what Pope John Paul II said some years back - "if you want peace, work for justice." This tenet encompasses my yearning to see beyond the legal structure and find a holistic picture that explains the situations and causes of injustices, and all the possible avenues for its correction and the maintenance of such solutions. Eventually, what I hope to achieve is that with a more developed understanding of conflicts and injustices, I may be a more effective and efficient member of the legal profession dedicated to the furtherance of sustainable peace and development.