This is the speech given by Atty. Nilo Divina at the IBP Butuan Chapter Oathtaking Ceremony


Greetings to the IBP Trustees and Officers, guests and friends.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is an honor to address you on this occasion.

Albert Einstein, undoubtedly one of the best minds this world has seen, once said that “[p]eace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law, of order–in short, of  government.”

In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1969, the Nobel Committee referred to the motto enshrined in the foundations of the ILO’s original building in Geneva, “Si vis pacem, cole justitiam” – “If you desire peace, cultivate justice.”

Bertrand Russell also observed, “But war will only end after a great labour has been performed in altering men’s moral ideals, directing them to the good of all mankind and not only of the separate nations into which men happen to have been born.”

Then, justice and peace seem to be concepts that go hand in hand and could never be divorced from one another.

Justice is a concept we lawyers grapple at and attempt to give meaning to every day of our lives – whether it be for people like me, in the academe, who teach what justice is or ought to be. It can be another thing for those who, also like me, advocate for what I perceive is justice for my clients, for those in private practice. It can be balancing between the parties’ interests and upholding the rule of law, for those in the judiciary.

I subscribe to the view espoused by Trostle, T. (1992) that “[p]eace is a state of well-being that is characterized by trust, compassion, and justice. In this state, we can be encouraged to explore as well as celebrate our diversity, and search for the good in each other without the concern for personal pain and sacrifice. … It provides us a chance to look at ourselves and others as part of the human family, part of one world.”

If we are to consider the role of a lawyer as a peacemaker, we can never view him outside of his natural habitat – the legal arena.

Prof. Carrie Menkel-Meadow  of Georgetown University Law Center advanced the thesis that the core mission of the legal profession is the pursuit of justice, through the resolution of conflict or the orderly and civilized righting of wrongs.

I tend to subscribe to Meadow’s view. I believe that practicing “in the interests of justice includes  giving great priority to the “peace-seeking” and “problem solving” aspects of lawyering.

This might entail a paradigm shift to holistic or restorative law practice,  since our default orientation is to see lawyering as a contest among argumentative, persuasive and articulate debaters, who believe that seeking justice, on behalf of a client or cause, means advocating for and “winning” a legal claim. As one author observes, this mindset started in law school when we competed for the highest grades in class, the best recitations, and this spilled over into law practice.

We debate and argue legal positions to prove who is more right rather than acknowledge the valid points raised by each other in order to arrive at what is truly the correct and equitable legal solution, as opposed to the solution our clients expect or demand. The view is of a world where individuals protect their rights, territory, property, and selves from other individuals. In this paradigm, we are separate and our needs and values are at odds with each other.

However, a time has come wherein the concept of lawyers as peacekeepers has been floated, and is begging to be considered by the Bar.

In its academic and most radical core, it basically seeks  parties in conflict, searching for consensus and mutually acceptable solutions  to seemingly intractable public policy and legal disputes.

On a more pragmatic level, this can be translated to strengthening our Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system, adopting a more restorative justice approach to our rules of procedure and criminal law system, and training lawyers and law students to see the profession not so much as an arena for legal gladiators fighting to the death until a winner is declared, but rather a parliament of advocates attempting to arrive at mutually acceptable solutions for clients.

Focus not just on “winning” the case, but on meeting the needs of multiple sets of parties and affected third parties, and on looking for substantive solutions that will require marshaling new resources, drafting new regulations, creating new institutions (including public and private partnerships in some cases) and implementing and enforcing plans, lawyers will have to learn new skills and develop new conceptual frameworks.

There are several ways:

  1. Peace Building in policy making to encourage social justice. Our own jurisprudence defines social justice as the humanization of the laws to the end that the marginalized and underrepresented are given equal opportunities in law, embodying the age-old adage that he who has less in life should have more in law. Policies which enhance economic development and distributive justice, encourage the rule of law, protect fundamental human rights and foster the growth of democratic institutions. One of the principal underpinnings of a strong democracy, which in turn is one of the best guarantors of political stability, is an effective system of law and order and a viable legal system.
  2. Peace Building through education and awareness. Perhaps, for those of us in the academe, it is about time that we stop treating public international law as just a prerequisite subject but rather one of the core, foundational courses every law student should master. It is when the core principles of public international law, particularly our universally accepted humanitarian laws, that promote acceptance of and respect for the principles of international law; to promote means and methods for the peaceful settlement of disputes between States, including resort to and full respect for the International Court of Justice; and to encourage the progressive development of international law and its codification. It is by this that we produce not only prolific mooters, but more importantly, genuine advocates of international humanitarian laws.
  3. Peace Building through legal aid and social work. It may also mean giving more premium to legal aid work in our universities and respective IBP Chapters, wherein we expose our law students and lawyers to direct contribution to development of effective legal systems and access to our courts. It is one of the ways we strengthen our ranks’ commitment to the rule of law an integral component of every peaceful and truly democratic society.

Peace building is the most important preventive strategy because it goes to the fundamental underlying causes of disputes and conflicts – to ensure that they don’t occur in the first place, or if they do arise, that they won’t recur.

If necessity is the mother of invention, we are certainly in need of the birth of some new ideas for pursuing justice, if peace is to become part of the overall equation and lawyers will play a part in achieving it.

Just as complex organisms need to constantly evolve, we never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. (R. Buckminster Fuller)

To inspire us, there are many lawyers in history who were at the forefront of championing rights, demanding justice, and in the process, forging lasting peace. Many of the great leaders we look up to were in fact lawyers whose legal experiences and advocacies helped shape the world as we know it today.

  1. Although the American legal system was still in its infancy when the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, many of the Founding Fathers were already lawyers. Among them is Judge George Wythe, whose judicial opinions attempted to steer Virginia away from slavery, and in one case he even tried to abolish slavery via judicial interpretation.
  2. Thomas Jefferson, an icon of individual liberty, democracy, and republicanism, hailed as the author of the Declaration of Independence and an architect of the American Revolution, appeared in a  wide variety of cases ranging from slaves seeking their freedom. The participatory democracy and expanded suffrage he championed defined his era and became a standard for later generations.
  3. Woodrow Wilson, a lawyer and the 28th President of the United States, led America during the World War I. He played a major role in the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles and was instrumental in the formation of the League of Nations, which was a precursor to the United Nations Organisation. For his lead role in the formation of the League of Nations, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.
  4. Although Abraham Lincoln is most known for his battle to end slavery as the 16th President of the United States, many are unaware of his earlier career battling in the court of law. In a law lecture he prepared in the 1850’s, he wrote one of the most heartfelt plea there is to the young law practitioner. He said:

Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief—resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.

  1. And who does not know Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more popularly known as Mahatma Ghandi? He is credited for having liberated India from tyranny. He influenced a sweeping world-wide trend towards civil rights and became the de facto spiritual leader for a generation. Yet many do not know that he was also a gifted lawyer. Gandhi’s career as a lawyer began in London during the late 1800’s where he received his degree in law. He later moved to South Africa where he became involved in civil rights cases defending other Indian immigrants. As stories tell it, the crucial moment in his life as a lawyer came after he refused to remove his turban during a court trial – an event that inspired his move towards activism and non-violent civil protest.
  2. Another lesser known but equally remarkable man, Thurgood Marshall, is a lawyer to whom the rise of rights movement and eradication of discriminatory laws against African-Americans can be attributed, aside from Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. Whereas Martin Luther King and others led the battles in the streets, Thurgood Marshall led the battles in the court.
  3. Another notable world figure but not commonly known to be a lawyer is Nelson Mandela. There is no debate that Mandela is a great statesman and an inspiring advocate. He remains an icon for racial justice and peace for helping avert civil war and helping to create a democratic South Africa. But as a lawyer, Mandela must also be remembered as having opened the first black law firm in South Africa in 1952 along with his friend, Oliver Tambo. Because of Apartheid laws, everyday Black South Africans often ended up in court in need of legal representation. He made legal representation accessible and affordable to them, who may have otherwise entered court without proper representation – serving as legal aid and public defender wrapped into one, fulfilling the core mission of the legal profession by providing access to justice.
  4. Locally, we have our very own Jose Diokno, more commonly known as “Ka Pepe.” Ka Pepe, a Thomasian, was a nationalist, human rights advocate, lawyer, Secretary of Justice, and Senator.

Ka Pepe remains known as an ultimate advocate of human rights, even at the expense of going against the Martial Law regime, which resulted in his detention even without charges in 1972.

Ka Pepe was not just an advocate; he was a top-notch lawyer. He is the only person to top both the Philippine Bar Examination and the board exam for Certified Public Accountants (CPA).  Even with all these achievements, I would surmise that Ka Pepe , I would surmise, would want to be known, above all, as a public interest lawyer and a human rights defender.

Having faced with a repressive regime that used the law to suppress the people’s rights, he realized that the law could also be used to fight for these rights. This way of legal thinking led him to establish the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and to imbue it with the philosophy of developmental legal aid. This helped propagate the practice of rendering free legal service in the country, also known as legal aid, as well as public interest lawyering.

It seems what these lawyers have in common is the stubborn refusal to accept injustice, and the bullish resolve to use their legal background in becoming some of the best US Presidents, peace activists and freedom advocates this world has ever seen.

Speaking from these credible examples, I therefore bravely state my case that the legal profession is reserved only for those whose sense of justice is inalienable and whose thirst for basic fairness and truth is unquenchable. As Nelson Mandela said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

I surmise the profession demands nothing less than lawyers who refuse to accept any form of injustice, of corruption, of downright unfairness. This is what it means to desire peace and to cultivate justice. Dwight D. Eisenhower,  the 34th President of the United States, the world’s number one superpower – concedes that “[t]hough force can protect in emergency, only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can finally lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.”

We cannot expect lasting peace, the absence of armed conflict, of hostility, of children becoming orphans, wives becoming widows, farms turning into war fields, without everyone doing his share to uphold our democratic system and ensuring that our most fundamental rights are enjoyed by all. As lawyers, we have been entrusted with so much responsibility not only in winning court cases, but also crafting policies, advocating matters of public interest, and becoming opinion leaders when the law seems blurry and wielded to oppress, instead of to protect – for that is the time when we must be most vigilant, most ready to serve, most ready to uphold the rule of law.

That is what it means to become peacekeepers in these trying times. That is what it means for the profession to give back to the country – by being the vanguard of its Constitution, of its cherished ideals as enshrined in our laws, of its collective sense of justice and commitment to the rule of law.

I have no doubt that the IBP Agusan Del Norte will be in the forefront.

Thank you and good afternoon.