By; Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho
“The tooth shall set you free” is a variation of the biblical quote “The truth will set you free” and now the mantra of senatorial candidate Atty. Chel Diokno.
Vēritāsvōslīberābit in Latin, it is a statement derived from John 8:32 where Jesus Christ addresses to a group of Jews. The truth is meant to represent Christianity, God or Jesus which will set you free from worldly impediments such as sin, misery, or ignorance.
Diokno became popular because of his teeth. Every time pressing issues arise, Duterte and his followers throw ad hominem attacks against Diokno, including his teeth.
President Duterte insulted Diokno for his teeth and accused the human rights lawyer of resorting to black propaganda amid the government’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic: “Kaya hindi ka nanalo kasi kalaking ngipin mo. Magsalita kalahati ng panga mo lumalabas. (You did not win because your teeth are big. Whenever you speak, half of your mouth shows)”
But Diokno embraced it by saying that “Dapat may ngipin ang batas” (The law must have teeth) as part of his advocacy for a better judicial system.
After earning a degree in Philosophy at the University of the Philippines Diliman, he studied at the UP College of Law for a year until 1983 and then went to Northern Illinois University (NIU) where he graduated Juris Doctor, magna cum laude and passed the Illinois Bar. He went back to the Philippines where he passed the 1988 Bar Examinations.
Diokno was the founding dean of the De La Salle University College of Law.
As part of his platform, Diokno said the justice system should be reformed to ensure that the rights of every individual are protected and to promote social justice.
Diokno pointed out that although the Supreme Court has released circulars to speed up the justice system, the problem in its implementation is primarily attributable to the lack of prosecutors and judges to handle the cases.
He also noted that certainty of punishment and speedy and efficient disposition of justice are key to stop corruption and criminality.
I had the chance to be trained on alternative lawyering as a student volunteer of Diokno’s Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), a nationwide organization of lawyers who provide free legal aid to victims of abuse and indigent Filipinos who could not afford to avail themselves of legal services.
FLAG was founded in 1974 by senators Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada and Joker Arroyo during the martial law era under President Ferdinand Marcos.
I was then a member of the UP Paralegal Volunteers’ Organization (UP PVO) which was devoted to the formation of law students and equip them with the necessary skills to empower communities and basic sectors through paralegal training education.
Diokno’s father, former senator Jose “Pepe” Diokno, once said “A lawyer must work in freedom; and there is no freedom when conformity is extracted by fear, and criticism silenced by force.”
Passing the bar is not enough. Ultimately, being a good lawyer is a different thing. There will be those who will join law offices for private practice while others will go to the government, judiciary, politics or the academe.
And there’s alternative lawyering. It is a legal practice either individually or through legal resource organizations that work with the poor and marginalized groups, identities and communities towards their empowerment, greater access to justice, and building peace.
Alternative lawyers do often take on careers outside of the mainstream, but what differentiates their work is their commitment to a different route to, and conception of, justice.
Many alternative lawyers are guided by the words of former President Ramon Magsaysay: “Those who have less in life should have more in law.”
The poor who have less resources in relation to the rich will often have to bank on the law to safeguard their rights
In building a more accessible, inclusive and dynamic justice system, all remedies allowed by law should be completely exhausted for their protection. The semblance of being given “more” in law is imperative to equip them the chance of equality which they do not enjoy.
Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are seasoned lawyers among others who passed their whole life in pursuit of emancipation of the human beings.
Lawyers, as professionals, are expected to uphold the ethical and moral values that are said to be essential to the fabric that holds society together.
Let us hope that Chel’s mantra, “the tooth shall set you free,” reverberates in the legislative halls.
Peyups is the moniker of the University of the Philippines.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)./WDJ