A man raises his fist during the announcement of the results of the 2018 Bar exams.
Philstar.com/Efigenio Christopher Toledo
Philippines' new lawyers face a legal landscape shaped by technology and COVID-19
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - April 29, 2020 - 12:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — The world is ever changing—that change has been more drastic in recent days, with our greater dependence on technology as a pandemic that infected millions has virtually forced the world to a halt. With these changes, the legal landscape has evolved too.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court released the results of the 2019 Bar examinations. The country will soon welcome 2,103 new lawyers.

These soon-to-be members of the Philippine Bar will take on a landscape where “human interactions are carried on to a large extent with the use of high technology,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Philstar.com.

“Commerce is conducted electronically, communications through the internet and social media, and many other transactions, crimes included, via cyberspace,” he pointed out.

The National Bureau of Investigation has reported a 100% rise in cybercrime incidents during the lockdown. Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also warned that there may be a surge in cybersex trafficking of children in this period.

With these changes, the legal framework has changed too.

“Laws governing electronic transactions and penalizing offenses committed through cyberspace have been enacted, and the way our legal institutions operate has been modified to cope up with and make use of computer-driven technologies,” Guevarra said.

“All new lawyers should be equipped to tread on this new landscape, where the environment for many human activities has become a virtual reality,” he added.

To be a lawyer during lockdown amid pandemic

Aside from cyberspace expanding the legal landscape, a global pandemic has restricted movement and business across the world. COVID-19 upended lives and forced billions of people into home confinement.

The Philippines is no exception. Luzon, the largest island in the country — including the capital where the Supreme Court sits — is still on an extended lockdown, in a drastic bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

In the middle of the lockdown, the high court also held the historic first virtual en banc session.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen shared that it took them days to prepare for their first ever online deliberations. They had to familiarize themselves with software and hardware to be used.

“For almost all of us, our younger staff and even our families in our respective households helped orient us and gave us the confidence to embrace this technology,” Leonen wrote on Twitter on April 17.

The SC also announced it will pilot test videoconferencing of criminal trials in this time of public health emergency: To minimize physical presence and interactions in our courts and help flatten the curve of the rising infections in the country.

The new crop of lawyers is coming in at an extraordinary time, when the health emergency “highlights the congestion, delays, inefficiencies and inequalities in our justice sector,” Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Egon Cayosa told Philstar.com.

The technology at their disposal will make them “competitive global lawyers” and they should be “courageous not only to protect the rights and interests of their clients (especially the poor) in the traditional way, but to be bold in trying out new and revolutionary ways of resolving differences,” he added.

They too “have to be competent in harnessing technology to do their work and deliver justice faster and more efficiently,” Cayosa said.

To be a lawyer when justice is elusive to some

The Philippines’ new lawyers will also step on a legal landscape where “finding justice...will not be easy,” said veteran rights lawyer and Free Legal Assistance Group national chairman Chel Diokno.

“In many ways, our justice system is a contradiction in terms: for the majority of our people, justice is as elusive as a home is for the homeless,” he said.

“To build a better house of justice for our people, we need lawyers who will exert every effort to level the playing field, defend the oppressed, and see to it that no one is above the law,” Diokno added.

Recent incidents involving the police cast doubt on whether law enforcement personnel have been following their own regulations. Calls for justice for victims of what may be instances of power abuse have been ringing and mounting.

RELATED: 'By the book': A look at quarantine incidents and police operational procedures

In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers national president Edre Olalia said “draconian emergency measures and autocratic, even despotic, mindsets that impact viciously and recklessly on basic rights are being venerated as acceptable and necessary.”

“Economic and social rights remain fundamentally dishonoured. Double and even multiple standards of justice as well as inconsistencies in the legal and justice system taunt us in our faces,” Olalia said in a message to Philstar.com.

“The new lawyer must not fall into conformity and complacency amidst these all. He/she must be bold, critical yet with a deep well of forbearance and most of all compassion and commitment especially to the ordinary people, the vulnerable, the persecuted and the victims of all sorts of injustice,” he added.

“There is no new normal. Only perspectives and new approaches from the lens of the people and not the powerful. Lawyers must serve justice and complain incessantly against everything that is wrong in our society,” Olalia also said.

Cayosa, who heads the national organization of lawyers, also expressed hopes that the new Filipino lawyers will “will deepen their ethical values, realize that lawyering is not a livelihood but a vocation, and measure up to their social responsibilities.”

“I hope they will help us tell and live the story of the Good Filipino Lawyer,” he added.

Justice Leonen, who may be the most social media savvy among the magistrates, posted this message for would-be lawyers on the eve of 2019 Bar exam results: "Remember that the profession is not all that you are."

"Be humble. Resist greed. Learn to sacrifice. Every privilege comes with responsibility.  Address inequality. Strive for social justice. Serve the people."

CHEL DIOKNO EDRE OLALIA INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES MARVIC LEONEN MENARDO GUEVARRA NOVEL CORONAVIRUS SUPREME COURT
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