Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Philippine American Bar Association (PABA): Its Role in the Rule of Law*

Last weekend, I attended a meeting of what was once a premier organization in Washington, D.C.  Formerly called the Philippine Lawyers Association (PLA), it became Philippine American Bar Association (PABA) to reflect what the first stanza of its theme song that says:

            “In the richness of its diversity
            It offers to the community
            Services full of legality
            Fighting for one’s liberty”

Seated (left to right) Ben Maynigo, Julie Watlington, Roland Lee, Ludy Cabanas, Mrs. Fernando Tonolete. Standing (left to right) Fernando Tonolete, Tony Cabanas, Dodong Tecala.

Founded in the fall of 1977 by a group led by the late Dr. Anthony Azores and Dr. Julio Macaranas, Jr. who became the first Chairman of the Board and President, respectively, the lawyers’ group had the following objectives:

1.              To serve as a medium for the nonpartisan discussion of significant            legal issues;
2.              To foster public understanding of human and civil rights secured by law;
3.              To assist in obtaining adequate legal representation for those unable to secure counsel to defend human and civil rights;
4.              To promote high standards of moral integrity and professional competence among its members; and
5.              To provide relief for the poor and distressed, and eliminate prejudice and discrimination.

Having just escaped with my family from Marcos’ dictatorial regime, it was the right group to join not just because of my profession but more so because of its given objectives.

Recognized and respected by both the US and Philippine governments, the organization freely promoted and implemented its programs and activities as its members listened and discussed with guests like the late Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court Claudio Teehankee, Court of Appeals Justice Coquia who advocated the need for closer cooperation between then PLA members and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and Professor Enrique Syquia, the first Asian president of the International Law Association (ILA) who talked at length on the legal system in the Philippines and the role of ILA in promoting higher standards and greater cooperation among lawyers all over the world.

Having the Honorable Gilbert Colon, Deputy Assistant to the US President of the United States explaining to the group the intricate requirements for employment in the Federal government and also underscoring the urgency of Filipino Americans closing ranks and asserting themselves as a potent force in American life, inspired many of its members to join the US government either as civil servants, political appointees, or elected officials.

Highly motivated, the group worked very hard to elect one of its former Presidents (David Valderrama) as the first elected State Assemblyman in Mainland USA.  Some of its members (Valderrama and Maynigo) also managed to have one-on-one meeting with Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and brought the concerns of Filipino Americans regarding the loss of freedom under Marcos.

The Fil-American Multicultural Center where we had our PABA meeting was one of Valderrama’s achievements as a politician and public servant in Maryland.

Indeed, the PABA Theme Song whose lyrics I humbly wrote during my presidency said it all:

            “PLA rich in its history
            PABA continuing legacy
            Leadership, enlightened ambition
            Membership, proud of mission

            Programmed vision, many hopes and dreams
            Projects galore deal with complaints and screams
            Legal aid and “Leadership on Wheels”
            Activities, each member feels

            Human rights and fighting veterans
            Voting rights, issues we take a chance
            Democracy equals Filipino
            Equality we share with the ‘kano”

Eating all the crabs that we could as they were cooked right then and there, accompanied by “lechon”, corn, and rice, we were ready to celebrate by biting, chewing, and swallowing all the so-called “Filipino crab mentality” both literally and figuratively.

Congress makes the laws. The President and the implementing agencies execute the laws. The Supreme Court and the judiciary interpret the laws.  Ours is a government of laws.

But laws are made for the service of, for, and by the people. If some laws do not serve the people, they are either amended or repealed.  If laws are violated, misused, and/or abused by people, the latter get prosecuted to find the truth. For this reason, defenders become necessary to protect the defendants’ rights also provided by law.

Yes, life is all about law. Law covers all facets of life. Be they Criminal, Civil, Commercial, Corporate, Employment, Administrative, Constitutional, Educational, Intellectual Property, even Cyber or Internet, Health, Environmental, Taxation, or International, there are laws that cover them. If one life behavior is not covered, it will be, sooner or later.

Indeed, we live under the Rule of Law. One profession that studies all these facets of life covered under the Rule of Law is the legal profession.  All have general knowledge with skills to find where the relevant laws are or some have specialized knowledge based on their majors, masters, and/or fields of expertise based on their practice and experience.

Reflecting on all of these, more than ever, I thought that PABA really plays a very important role in the promotion and enforcement of the Rule of Law at this point of our history – be it American or Filipino.

The Principle of Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, Freedom of Information, Anti-Political Dynasty, International Treaties and other International Laws, Human Rights violations, Human Trafficking and Slavery, and many more require the attention of those in the know.

From the days of Martial Law in the Philippines to the time of Ambassador Gaa, the Philippine government respected, recognized and sought the cooperation of then PLA/PABA.  That is not so today. Perhaps, Ambassador Cuisia and his underlings do not know that we exist or they just do not feel the force of our existence.

This has to change.  After all, the last stanza of the PABA Theme Song said it best:

            Philippines, beloved native land
            America, adopted home in hand
            Happiness for all our families

            Number one in our priorities

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