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Sunday Lifestyle

Decency

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

Decency is defined as having the quality of being decent, meaning conforming to standards of good taste, propriety, and morality. Particularly for us lawyers, being decent is an indispensable virtue and part and parcel of the spirit of the oath that we take to become a member of the bar. As you read this, a few — perhaps many — will sneer and snicker, no doubt recalling the many instances when attorneys — who are your friends, relatives or acquaintances — have acted without regard to this important norm of conduct. Actually, I’m sure some in my family will laugh recalling times that I’ve fallen short of this standard. And I’ll be the first to admit that there are lawyers who are the epitome of what is indecent, immoral and inappropriate. As with any other profession, we have our scalawags, but this reality does not in any way undermine the aspirations of the legal profession: that as lawyers we seek not only to be capable advocates and good counsel but, more importantly, we strive to be decent human beings.

My mind has been on this issue the past days because of an incident that occurred in the Corona impeachment trial, when a lawyer for the prosecution openly mocked and disrespected a senator-judge. The lawyer was later held, properly to my mind, in contempt but the incident left me with a lasting bad impression and I was gravely concerned. To put this into context, my view is that the impeachment trial has the potential to be a great learning event for Filipinos — it can teach us about various aspects of the law and the Constitution and show us that when we have political disagreements, there are institutional mechanisms to resolve them. In short, it can help us mature as a democratic nation. Unfortunately, when we see counsels openly mocking senator-judges and treating the judge, and thus the Senate tribunal as well, with contempt, then the instruction given is of the most negative kind. Then the lesson that Filipinos might retain is that we no longer must respect public officers and public institutions; that when we disagree with the actions of a high officer, we openly mock them instead of taking the appropriate legal steps to hold them accountable for the perceived official wrongdoing.

In fact, afterwards, when I stated my opinion on the incident involving Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, I saw, sadly, how some Filipinos really need to relearn the value of basic decency. Again, in the aftermath of the exchange between Senator Santiago and a lawyer who would be held in contempt, I made a statement during ANC’s Chief Justice On Trial that lawyers should give respect to judges, particularly during trial. My statement was based both on my nearly 15 years of trial practice and on the lawyer’s Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility. As a practitioner, regardless of my personal feelings towards a judge, even if the judge would berate me or insult me, I have never acted with open defiance or contempt for the court. Regardless of my view of a particular judge — he or she might be inept, corrupt, or worse, both — I have always chosen to respect the office, even if I may not respect the person of the magistrate. And If I truly felt aggrieved, I could always file the necessary administrative cases against an erring judge.

Later, I would be accused by some — since Senator Santiago often berates the prosecution — of being biased in “defending” the senator and that I was taking sides. Some of the accusations, which were done via Twitter and other social media, were of the indecent, insulting, and unfair kind — calling me names, stating that I was both stupid and dishonest. Truth be told, I’m Teflon-coated when it comes to insults owing to a strong sense of self-worth — meaning that I know my real value and even if people hurl the worst accusations and criticisms against me, in the scheme of things, those insults don’t really matter. But what is a cause for concern is that in making statements in social media that are vulgar and unfair, the real character — or lack thereof — of the people making them is ultimately betrayed. Put another way, what is incredibly sad and pathetic is that some people may have totally lost their sense of decency.

However, regarding the accusation that I have taken sides in the impeachment proceedings, to be honest, that is a true and proper criticism. However, I’m not siding with either the defense or the prosecution; instead, corny as it sounds, I’m taking the side of basic decency and gentlemanly conduct. Put another way, when I do legal or policy analysis on the impeachment proceedings, whether in my column, my TV show, or during ANC’s live coverage, I do it clinically and objectively. I do it that way precisely because I understand that the impeachment trial is a great opportunity to teach Filipinos about law, democracy, and our Constitution. If I’m biased at all it is for old-fashioned values of decency and right conduct. Simply, if the defense had similarly insulted and mocked a senator-judge — for example, someone perceived as lawyering for the prosecution — then I’d take exactly the same stand.

So as we observe the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Corona, let us not forget this valuable point: in the midst of partisanship and the heat of the legal and political battle, we should never forget to, first, give proper respect to the impeachment Court and, second, to conduct ourselves with decency and honor.

Now others may view the impeachment trial as a mere political circus but make no mistake about it, what happens at the Corona trial will set precedents for impeachments a hundred years hence. And by far the most important example that we can set, for future generations of our countrymen, is if the participants in the process — the Senators, prosecutors, lawyers, the accused, and even the media and the public — strive to be what all Filipinos really should be: decent and honorable.

CHIEF JUSTICE CORONA CHIEF JUSTICE ON TRIAL CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY IF I IMPEACHMENT JUDGE MDASH SENATOR SENATOR SANTIAGO TRIAL
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