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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

HipFlips

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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