The Philippines: Light in the darkness


Last week, I was asked to speak before a webinar sponsored by the UP Portia Alumnae Association on my experiences as a human rights lawyer during martial law.

As many of you know, I began my career as a lawyer in the 1960s, trading the comforts and perks of being a corporate counsel in favor of being a lawyer for farmers, workers, student activists, and ordinary folks who would otherwise be deprived of legal representation because of their inability to afford the usual cost of legal services.

It was a difficult practice, especially for a lawyer newly-minted such as myself. It became even more difficult after Marcos declared martial law.

Yet despite the difficulties, which we faced, and the threats and harassment, which we endured, a few of us, a band of brothers were determined to pursue our convictions during those dark days.

We banded together and formed the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, and Nationalism Inc. or MABINI. Our group, as I described in my speech, was “a response against the tide of injustice, abuse of power, and disregard for the rights of the people.”

The Marcos regime gained and consolidated power by sowing fear. Violence and intimidation were its main weapons. And for 34 years, it succeeded in silencing majority of the population. Yet our small group of human rights lawyers persevered, undeterred by the threats and actual acts of violence. It was this strength of conviction that helped us not only to endure the suffering but overcome the fear.

I shared this insight to the webinar participants. Lawyers are living in dangerous times. I had thought all along that the years of martial law were the most dangerous years for lawyers. Sadly, I was mistaken.

More lawyers have been insulted, bullied, threatened, and killed in the past five years than at any time in recent history.

But what disappoints and enrages many of our colleagues is the absence of outrage, even from our fellow lawyers. It is hard to believe that the acts of harassment and intimidation inflicted not only on the legal profession and the judiciary – for the violence has also claimed prosecutors and judges among its victims – but on the people as well are being disregarded or ignored. If the intent is to beat our profession into submission, the absence of a collective response may be seen as a sign that they have succeeded.


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