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Serving Justice, Saving Souls

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J. Reuben Clark Law Society-Philippines:  A Year of Dispensing Legal Service with the Energies of their Soul

When I lived in California, a lawyer acquaintance of mine once tried to sell a prepaid legal service membership to me. It wasn’t cheap but what really made me fish for my credit card was when he finally unleashed the deadliest blow in his verbal arsenal: a person living in the United States is more likely to get sued than be hospitalized. If reality was the bait, well, it bit me instead. That they have a mature culture of people valuing, asserting and enforcing their rights complemented by a relatively efficient and modern legal and prison systems so they can maintain peace, order and the American way of life was apparent to me. It is no surprise, then, that huge amount of taxpayers’ dollars are siphoned off from local and federal coffers to keep them well-oiled, and that an average American pays more for his insurance premiums than most people in the world especially in areas where potential personal liabilities are high. All it could take is one nasty lawsuit with a brassy lawyer as prosecutor and you could lose a life’s worth of savings and would still owe another lifetime’s worth of debt. Paying a premium for a 24/7 access to quality legal service did not only seem the most sensible thing to do, it gave me peace of mind to sleep well at night (but not trust toward cunning lawyers, though).

In the Philippines, however equitable and sufficient are the laws, the wheels of justice turn grindingly slow that the Supreme Court itself put up the “Justice on Wheels” system in 2004, “a mobile court system as a means to bring justice closer to the poor by providing a fast and free solutions of conflict through conciliation, mediation and adjudication,” said Honorable Adolfo S. Azcuna, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. These are fully-airconditioned, custom-built buses configured into a courtroom in the front and a mediation room in the rear with a Presiding Judge, a Clerk of Court, a Prosecutor, a Public Attorney, a Court Stenographer, a Docket Clerk, a Process Server, a Driver and a Security Guard. Its priority is to hear the cases of those who have been on detention for more than the maximum penalty of their particular cases. They are aimed at decongesting the overcrowded detention facilities—some of which were holding up to five times their designated capacities—and the heavy caseloads of some Family Courts.

Justice, or the lack thereof, is all in the hands of a lawyer. For the J. Reuben Clark Law Society-Philippines Chapter members, they had their work cut for them.

The author with Atty. Mhe-Anne Ojeda, JRCLS-Philippines Secretary General
The author with Atty. Mhe-Anne Ojeda, JRCLS-Philippines Secretary General

Established on May 21, 2008, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society – Philippines Chapter is the 65th in the world to have sprung up from the original chapter out of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The members are lawyers, law graduates and associates who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of other faith who support their Mission Statement :  “We affirm the strength brought into the law by a lawyer’s personal religious convictions. We strive through public service and professional excellence to promote fairness and virtue founded upon the rule of law.” Founded in 1973, the school is named after J. Reuben Clark (J.D.)—he was a prominent attorney in the Department of State, and Under Secretary of State for U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency to President Heber J. Grant. In 1930 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

The public thrust of this society is its Pro Bono Legal Services Program or by providing legal assistance to members of the Church and others who could not otherwise afford it. It aids local Priesthood leaders, consistent with the welfare principles of the Church, with an organized program of legal resource to members whom the leaders determine to be in need of legal assistance and do not otherwise have the financial capabilities to obtain such assistance. It becomes the conduit of opportunities for its lawyer-members to serve bringing them personal and professional satisfaction. However, this program is not administered by the Church but through the voluntary efforts of the JRCLS members.

Barely a week into its creation, JRCLS-Philippines’ ground-breaking foray into public service is its successful defense of an active LDS single mother to a then 11-year-old daughter who was an Immigration Facilitator for four years at an immigration consultancy. On March 15, 2008, she was arrested in an entrapment arranged by the Public Employment Service Office while conducting an immigration consultancy seminar in a Southern Tagalog town. She was then charged with “Illegal Recruitment in Large Scale/Syndicated Estafa” and was held in jail without bail. Her arrest was aired on local radio and was touted a victory against illegal recruiters. After getting her first and only visit from her company-hired lawyer, this sister was abandoned and languished in jail for a little over two months in a remote town with roads not passable to small vehicles before JCRLS-Philippines learned of her case. A committee composed of Attorneys Rodrigo Reyna, Robert Cauilan and Ernie San Juan was tasked to respond to this pro bono case and to formulate its own course of actions involving the sister’s Bishop and a Priesthood holder (who visited her company) from her ward, the  Relief Society President (who provided accommodation) and two Priesthood holders of the branch in the town where she was incarcerated, and a Priesthood holder from a different ward (who drove, alternately with his cousin, the committee members to and from that town at his expense and using his own vehicle). A month after her first visit from JRCLS-Philippines, she was free on bail, and the complaints were subsequently dismissed. She was faithful and maintained gospel standards through out her ordeal as kind-hearted Priesthood leaders, members and friends feverishly did the legwork providing transportation, food, lodging, bail and other expenses while volunteer lawyers Attorneys Rodrigo Reyna, Robert Cauilan and Ernie San Juan dispensed legal services with the “energies of their soul”.  As everyone involved did their part diligently while putting their trust in the Lord, the JRCLS Pro Bono Legal Services program was properly dispensed with, embracing perfectly the welfare principles of the Church with favorable results.

This and other stories will define the legacy of J. Reuben Clark Law Society – Philippines Chapter for years to come as it sees its membership grow from 33 to 57 when it recently celebrated its first year anniversary with a two-day conference held at Buendia Chapel in Makati City, Metro Manila and at Dasmariñas, Cavite. Among its activities were the symbolic visits to the American War Memorial Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio Global City in Makati where the late prophet Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Philippines for missionary work on June 1961 and to the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite, the house in which Emilio Aguinaldo declared the independence of the first Philippine Republic on June 1898. Noted were the keynote addresses of President Keith R. Edwards, Philippines Area President, Attorney David Berrett, Area Legal Counsel Office of General Council-Asia, for the opening and closing programs respectively, and the address of Judge Maria Elisa Sempio-Diy, a Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge.

President Edwards exhorted the JRCLS members to be “spiritual advocates” reassuring that “advocates bring harmony to the world.” He continued by asking the members, “What is it that God wants from lawyers as his advocates? : to live justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God,” citing Micah 6:8. Furthermore, he encouraged the attendees to exercise wisdom as King Solomon did. “Wisdom requires a price to be paid. If we’re going to gain wisdom, we need to ask for an understanding heart, to help us understand our priorities and its cost,” he counseled.

Attorney Berrett’s  introduction on the origin and definition of the word “advocate” prepared the listeners for his discourse on the issues of Justice, Mercy, and the Atonement, and how the lawyer’s advocacy of their client or a Priesthood leader’s advocacy for the members mirrors, to a certain extent, that of the Savior‘s advocacy with the Father. “When individuals were in my law office, the concern was for their temporal welfare. When individuals were in my Church office, the concern was for their spiritual welfare,” he shared. He concluded that if we agree to accept the Savior’s fee agreement, He will plead his case before the Father and we may obtain justification and sanctification and may stay in the presence of God.

Having been enlightened by these discourses on the true nature of these noble advocates, I am comforted to know that there is a breed of lawyers that look after their clients’ welfare as the Savior would. Brigham Young’s statement on corrupt lawyers is as true today as it was more than one and a half centuries ago: “When a lawyer comes into the Church, if he happens to have a little common sense left, and will take to ploughing and cultivating the soil, there is a chance for him to make a man for himself; but if he follows his former customs and habits, the chances are against him, he may ruin himself, lose the Spirit of the Lord, if he ever possessed it, and go back into midnight darkness.” (Journal of Discourses 11:125). Now that most of these lawyers actually grew up in the Church with more than enough sense to get out of their comfort zones to serve, they take to plow the hearts of men and cultivate the soil of justice with devotion, humility and pure love of Christ. Like a city set on a hill, the JRCLS-Philippines members shine their lights of good works before men. For in their selfless acts of serving justice to those who may have been denied of it, they transcend their roles from advocacy to saving souls of men, including their own.

Now that can surely make you sleep tight at night. [d]*


Written by nealm

23 September 2009 at 3:22 AM


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From Musical Competition to Missionary Preparation, this Next Big Star Finalist Casts His Light on the World

Anton Cruz (Anton Paolo Bayona Antenorcruz in Real Life)While waiting for his turn during practice for this year’s finals of GMA 7’s Are You the Next Big Star (AYTNBS)? singing competition, Anton Paolo Bayona Antenorcruz is in a quiet nook of the dressing room struggling, though unperturbed, with the questions he needs to answer himself. With a million pesos cash prize from SM, an Avida condominium unit and a lucrative GMA management and recording contracts only at stake, giving the winner a sure stab at instant fame and fortune in Philippine show business, what’s not to worry about, right? Interestingly, those were the least of his concerns: “I make it a point to work on all the assignments for my Seminary class whenever I get the chance so come Saturday, I’m ready,” says this 17-year-old crooner known as Anton Cruz to his fans while leafing on the scriptures he totes along with him everywhere. “I grew up in the Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and my parents taught me the gospel. Like learning a new song on my own, where they have been my influence on what to learn and sing, I need to gain my own testimony apart from theirs; and if I put God first in my life, everything else will just follow,” he mutters decidedly.

All-Natural, No Artificial Additives

How old is he again? People tend to ask that question at each close encounter with this unassuming teenager whose reserved persona, refined demeanor and refreshing Pinoy good-looks, a welcomed departure from the mestizos or the mixed-race looks du jour the media fondly glorifies, are enough reasons to elicit curious glances and silent admiration. The moment he sings his heart out and reveals his soul – both seemingly well beyond his years – audiences are captivated, leaving them star-struck by his pure melodic artistry and his simple unstudied charm. All it takes is to listen to his rendition of Eric Benet’s 2005 song, “The Last Time”, and one will know that this kid is the real deal.

Where does that voice come from? Why do people gravitate toward him? Who is this nice luminous young man?

All in the Family

A closer look at this young prodigy unravels his mystique that is more than 17 years in the making:  “He got his singing genes from me as my family is musically inclined especially from his lolo, my dad, who is a good singer,” says Cecille, Anton’s mother. “On my husband’s side, they’re not bad singers either as they all can carry a tune.” She recalls Anton at 8 years-old trying to perfect the vocal acrobatics of Destiny’s Child’s remake of the Bee Gees’ song, “Emotions”, over and over to the point of them getting tired and irritated by it. “But that’s how he developed his R&B style, by giving justice to the song his way, apart from singing Pop and joining Church choirs since he was in Primary. People are quite surprised by his wide vocal range,” she continues. His tenacity not just for winning but for actually honing his craft and his love for music drives him to join contests. “He is just thrilled to sing and be a part of a contest regardless of the prize,” adds Cecille. Not too shabby a passion when it nets him awards after another, including a 4-year Informatics scholarship, both in individual and choral competitions. He is the first freshman to ever beat the senior contenders to clinch the “Anthonian Singing Idol ” title of the School of Saint Anthony in Quezon City and also the lead tenor and soloist of the school’s Coro San Antonio, the reigning champion of the University of the Philippines’ annual Musikappella, a singing competition for high school choral groups. Winning is expected of him – and he does every time – when he represents his school in singing contests (which explains why two of his pictures are in the school’s website).

The higher his achievements are, the more grounded he remains having been raised by parents who make sure he attends Church service, his Young Men and Mutual activities religiously and that taking his Seminary class to heart and qualifying for a mission are necessary pieces to a peaceful, happier and fulfilling life. “It’s really hard preparing Young Men for mission nowadays because of their exposure to temptations we never encountered during our time. It’s a constant struggle, and we are always there to guide him to the right path. I feel that if I make the Church and living the gospel a part of his life, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6),” she reiterates resolutely. To validate her point: “He’s known to be kind and humble even in school. People would come up to me and tell me I should be very happy and thankful for having a son like him,” his mother affirms affectionately. For Anton, the depth of his affection is evidenced by his ready remark when asked who inspires him: “My parents. In my heart, I dedicate my song and performance to them every time.

All for God and Family

It must be the way he does his share of family responsibilities like ironing clothes (Mom says he does it best!), his penchant for reading books like Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey and his strong spiritual anchor, not just his singing prowess and all his winnings, that set him apart and prepare him for a big break such as AYTNBS.  “I wash my own clothes, I clean the house, I cook, I learn to schedule things,” Anton nonchalantly points out. Wait, a teenager doing household chores and talking about time management?! He chuckles at the suggestion that these are anomalies in a typical 21st century teenager. “When I entered the finals of AYTNBS, my life became like a call center with my crazy schedule. I knew I needed to manage my time to keep up with the contest schedule without sacrificing my family, Seminary class and other Church activities. I’m thankful though that this contest also gave me the opportunities to build on my self-confidence and taught me to be out-going and sociable. Besides,” says he, “ I know that these will all help me prepare for my mission.

The pressure to compromise his LDS standard in exchange for the “cool factor” of being one of his peers and being one with them –drinking, smoking, being in the spotlight and parties all the time, which are, sadly, typical of showbiz scenes– must have been more challenging than the actual singing competition? “When they asked me why I don’t drink and smoke, I told them right off I am LDS. Somehow, I feel guided to keep my standard, so it isn’t really that difficult. I am reminded of my favorite missionary scripture to be an example in situations like these: ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16), ” he enthuses.

Being a missionary seems to be second nature to Anton.  He fondly recalls the time when he was 12 years-old and had gone out tracting with the full-time missionaries. “I love sharing my testimony and observing the missionaries when I work with them. I also realize the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all men to return to our Heavenly Father,” he shares solemnly. His mother tells how happy he is to work with the missionaries, and how each time he comes home he would always express his desire to go on a mission. Recently, he spoke at their Stake Conference where he outlined to his fellow Young Men the ways to prepare most effectively to serve a full-time mission by becoming a missionary instead of going on a mission (Becoming A Missionary, Elder David A. Bednar, Liahona, November 2005). “It is not enough for us to be convinced by the gospel; “ he quips, ”we must act and think so that we are converted by it.” Furthermore he relates: “I realized preparing for a mission is just like learning a new song. My parents influence me what songs I need to sing. It is not enough for me to hear my parents say that the Church is true. I can sing a song because they told me so. I can also go on a mission because it is a commandment and that my parents told me I must go. But I know that it would be best if I study the song myself and understand what it means; that it would be best for me to go on a mission if I know in my heart that the gospel is true and that The Book of Mormon is true by myself apart from the shadow of my parents’ testimony.

Soar and Shine

After waiting in line with his father, Hermie, for 16 hours for 2 days on end just for the audition alone, and 10,000 registrations, and 500 qualifiers, and 16 finalists, and 2 months of grueling rehearsals and shows, a different winner was declared. “How do you feel now that it’s over?” I asked him. “Sad but relieved. I’m just happy that my life is back to normal, to be back to my family and the Church. Oh yeah, to wash my clothes on schedule again!” he laughs with uncontrived joy in his voice. “If you won’t have a singing career, what would you be?” I bait. “A pilot. I will be a singing pilot!” More laughters.

With a talent and soul this raw, real and reassuring, I couldn’t help but be reminded of what my late mother told me about winning : “Politics may take the win from her child but it can never deny the winner in him.” His example and desire to serve God is the star that will matter in the lives of those who are in darkness, a light to those who want to follow the Savior. [d]*


If Anton’s voice won’t give you chills and leave you enchanted in this YouTube sample, I don’t know what will…

… comparing to Eric Benet’s 2005 original, it’s Anton from the first note to the last (sorry, Eric).

Written by nealm

7 September 2009 at 5:34 AM

HipFlip#1: goodnewspilipinas.com

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I have it bookmarked in my Chrome. It’s in my Google Reader. My Facebook friends, especially my Filipino friends who are mostly abroad, have been served regularly a generous helping of positive Philippine news using its links in my status updates. Like my Gmail, a day without checking it is never complete. For that, Good News Pilipinas gets the first spot in my HipFlip roster.

GNP snippet

Good News Pilipinas, or GNP, is an information website that highlights the good in the Filipino and the Philippines. It focuses on the positive action, triumphs and victories, whether big or small of fellow Pinoys around the world. It is here to uplift, inspire and inform the world the greatness of our country and people. It  wants to make every Filipino feel proud and smile, that yes indeed we have achieved a lot as a people, and continue to be successful in various sectors in our very own country and overseas. It has a NO POLITICS information policy. All it wants is just to tell the whole world that the Philippines is a big beautiful country and that the Filipino is hospitable, talented, smart, and resourceful. Its Managing Board is composed of  Tina de Leon Funtanilla, COO & Marketing Director, Gabriel Battung – Sales & Marketing Manager, Melannie Syquia-Hizon, CEO & Operations Director, Giselle Kasilag, Community Relations Director, Susan de Guzman, Public Relations Director, Federico M. Hizon, Director
Atty. Verena Villanueva, Legal Counsel, and Michael Haydn Bagtas, Website Administrator & Content Manager.

Whether reporting on the first interactive TV created by a team of Filipinos, Donald Trump and Company’s $1 Billion investment in Subic, or an advice from renowned immigration lawyer, Michael J. Gurfinkel, Esq., the site strikes a chord in the hearts of Filipinos worldwide who are sick and tired of the cut-and-dried fare of bad news on and from the Philippines. Its masthead captures its spirit and essence aptly : “Pinoy Pride Worldwide!” Its list of advocates includes Margie T. Logarta, a HongKong-based veteran lifestyle and travel journalist, the Editor of the prestigious and widely read regional publication, Business Traveller Asia-Pacific Magazine, who is also known in the industry as “The Dean of Travel Writers”, and Rico Hizon, the 2006 TOYM (The Outstanding Young Men) Awardee for International Journalism and Community Service,  a BBC World Business and Financial News Anchor producing, reporting and presenting live every weekday mornings the business and finance program Asia Business Report.

If you are like me who thinks bad news is no news, we have a wonderful source of a healthy dose of positive news about the Philippines and the Filipinos!

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Written by nealm

9 July 2009 at 4:07 PM


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PhotoFunia_6b88When a person — Filipino or not — is celebrated for what he does for the Philippines, not for who is or his net worth,  he is a HipFlip. This is an homage to those who extol quintessential Filipino traits impacting the lives of the Filipinos. Whether she has the face that can launch a thousand space shuttles and helps feed a million kids, an unassuming cab driver who returns a brief case full of foreign currencies, or a twittering social networker / facebooking blogger / fierce Philippine advocate, this HipFlip deserves to be immortalized in the searchable archives of the ether. No bronze life-size bust for him nor an Oscar statuette for her, just an honest adulation of a grateful people and an honored spot in the HipFlip roster.

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Written by nealm

31 January 2009 at 10:16 AM