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Oath-Taking of the New Lawyers

(Article published in the May 06, 2002 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

April 30, 2002, for the successful bar candidates who took their lawyer’s oath at the Philippine International Convention Center, was, in the words of Senior Associate Justice Josue N. Bellosillo, their "first step in the legal profession for a life-long and oft treacherous journey". Also, it was, as described by Associate Justice Jose Melo, "a rich event of a lifetime".

For me and, if I may say so, also for the seven other members of the 2001 Committee on Bar Examinations, chaired by Associate Justice Sabino de Leon, Jr., it was a fitting closure to a unique experience of five months that seemed five years of Sisyphean toil. After having separately borne in secret silence the burden of sifting the chaff from the wheat, we stood together, for the first time on the same stage, seeing and hearing the shared joy of happy faces of sons and daughters and the even happier faces of their parents.

The day’s activities began with a lunch of the examiners with the justices of the Supreme Court, held this year at the court’s penthouse. We had been told by Atty. Tina Layosa, sometime either in January or February as we reached the correction homestretch, that this lunch with the justices was traditional. She was not very clear on when the tradition began and was much less clear as to why it was the examiners who had always footed the bill. I suspect the latter part of the tradition began as soon as Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., whom I had remembered from our early days at the Fact Finding Commission both for his probity as well as parsimony, headed the court.










 

At 1:45 p.m., we motored with the justices from the Supreme Court in Padre Faura to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) at Roxas Boulevard. The car of Justice de Leon, with whom I hitched a ride, was an obvious hand-me-down from a retired justice. It could hardly keep up with the tailend of the convoy which, to my surprise, was not escorted by a motorcycle cop. Just as well, I thought to myself, since a motorcycle cop was not appropriate. Despite some idiot saying that justice is dead, we were not in a funeral cortège.

We hardly had time, upon reaching the PICC, to don on our togas. Soon, the clerk of court called us into the auditorium in the order of the subjects of the bar examination. Judge Samilo Barlongay, examiner for Political Law and Public International Law, led the way, followed by Atty, Luis M. Ermitaño, for Labor Law and Social Legislation, and then my professor and colleague at the Ateneo Law School, Justice Hector Hofileña, for Civil Law. At the end of the line were Rep. Isidro C. Zarraga who gave the Remedial Law exam, and Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals Jesus M. Elbinias who, in jest, wanted to exchange places with me on stage. I was not about ready, however, to yield my privileged space which was to the right of former SEC chairman Rosario Lopez, examiner for Mercantile Law, who was flanked on her left by Sandiganbayan Justice Romeo Escareal, Sr., examiner for criminal law.

As soon as the audience was through with their applause for the examiners, the members of Supreme Court held their processional, in the order of their seniority, and solemnly took their seats. The sheriff’s "hear yea; hear yea" foretold that a momentous event was about to unfold. For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, the Philippines, in a few moments, would have a thousand or so more lawyers.

Although I had not attended any lawyer’s oath taking recently, the rite seemed very familiar. After the singing led by the Supreme Court Choir of the national anthem and then of the Supreme Court hymn (the latter was written pro bono by our co-examiner, Justice Jesus M. Elbinias), Justice De Leon as the Chairman of the 2001 Committee on Bar Examinations, delivered the petition for the admission to the Bar of the successful candidates.

The Chief Justice, acting for the court, accepted the petition, asked if there were any objections (causing a ripple of amusement in the audience) and, hearing none, granted the petition. Atty. Luzviminda Puno, the Clerk of Court, forthwith swore in the successful candidates. Together they said the oath which, as Associate Justice Jose Melo reminded them, "not only impresses upon the attorney his responsibilities but also stamps him as an officer of the court, a minister in the temple of justice, an instrument to advance the ends of justice." Quickly my mind raced to 1969. I had just gotten married when I took my own lawyer’s oath and had been swearing ever since.

With the main business over, the last item in the programme was the lesson every lawyer had to learn: the court has the last word. So back on their seats, they had to listen to Associate Justice Jose Vitug give the address to the new lawyers. Apparently remembering his lapse last year of not acknowledging the presence of the law deans, began with a sincere apology to his colleagues in the academe.

Of all the members of the Supreme Court, he most probably has had the most extensive teaching background and no one could appreciate better the contribution that the corps of law deans makes in training and forming the entrants to the legal profession. He ask the new lawyers to be true to the ideals of their calling, to be loyal to our legal institutions, and ended, echoing the words of his fellow Associate Justice, Reynato Puno, by asking them "to soar to the skies with wings of hope, but likewise keep your feet firmly planted on the ground".

Chief Justice Davide signaled the proceeding’s end by banging the gavel, sending forth the fledging lawyers into what he called "a new quest—a quest for truth, justice and purity of heart". Then the court did its recessional.

We, the examiners, were ourselves about to exit when Bar Confidant Tina Layosa told us to stay put. Justice De Leon wanted a picture taken of the entire committee on stage. While we were waiting for him to return on stage, an audacious few posed in front of us at the foot of the stage and had their pictures taken. Others noticed that we did not mind, and by the time Justice de Leon joined us, there was a good-sized crowd posing for pictures at the foot of the stage. I said, "This is the only time you can use us as background".

But actually, the symbolic meaning of the situation was not lost on me, and neither, I am sure, on my co-examiners. When the afternoon began, there were us, the examiners, facing them, the examinees. By the afternoon’s end, there we all were, the examiners and the examinees, looking in the same direction, wearing the same face of joy, feeling the same sense of satisfaction of a task well done.

By nightfall, the new lawyers each repaired to their loved friends and families, to remember and rejoice, to count blessings and celebrate. Soon they may become notaries public. But before the morrow, the moment was theirs to savor while in the heavens, by the light of a rising moon, Venus and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn stood in silent alignment.

   

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