Law with Conscience

Law with Conscience

Law with a Conscience [1]
By Justice Pamela Ann Abella Maxino, Associate Justice, Court of Appeals

(Speech delivered during the 27th General Assembly of the Silliman University Law Association on August 22, 2015 where Justice Maxino received the 2015 Outstanding SULAW Award.)

Thirty years ago, in 1985, my classmates and I were seated in this very room, eagerly waiting for our professor, for our first day of school in Criminal Law 1. Right on time, President Venancio D. Aldecoa,  Jr. strode in. Yes, he was President of Silliman University then, and would later become Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals. Without further ado, and while shuffling the class cards, Justice Aldecoa asked, “What is law?”

I must confess that it gave me a jolt, primarily because I did not expect a recitation on the first day of class, and I would have wanted to give a profound answer to impress my professor, but I was not prepared.

I expected that on the first day of class, we would go through the rote motions of introducing ourselves, and only thereafter acquaint ourselves with the 214 offenses,[2] more or less, defined in the Revised Penal Code, among other crimes.

I recall that we blurted out our answers, as best as an unprepared freshman could.

Since then, we had prepared for and hurdled so many questions, oral andwritten, thrown our way by Justice Aldecoa and our other professors, which merited our graduation from this great institution of higher learning, thus composing the Silliman University College of Law Class of 1989.

We left the halls of Silliman to join the workforce in the world of law.

I was soon to discover, that there is no other profession that tends to define the professional by the school where he graduated from, than that of the law profession. Almost always, a lawyer is asked what school he or she is a graduate of, and what fraternity or sorority he or she belongs to.

I have always been a proud Sillimanian. I held my own in wherever workplace I found myself in, among the other graduates of big universities in Manila and abroad. My confidence is borne by the quality education I received from Silliman University, steeped in the tradition of – the quest for excellence and Christian education.

The standards of excellence set and demanded by Silliman has to continue at work, especially for us who are directly involved in the administration of justice. Mediocrity compromises the life, liberty and property of the litigants. For us judges and justices, in each decision that we render, we decide the fate of the parties – for them to go to jail or to walk free, or to lose the shirts on their backs. With just 15 to 30 pages in a decision, we can “re-arrange” the lives of people. Thus, nothing less than excellence is demanded of us.  It is said that the greatest plague that can befall a civilized society is an ignorant judge.

As you heard from the kind introduction, I started my law career as a researcher in the Office of Mr. Justice Venancio D. Aldecoa, Jr. in the Court of Appeals while I was waiting for the bar exam results. I have come full circle, with my appointment as Associate Justice in the Court of Appeals.  In the Court of Appeals, as early as in the first quarter of this year, we have been gearing up for our 80th anniversary celebration next year, which incidentally, has the theme, Reaching for Judicial Excellence.

You are assured that in the Court of Appeals, the constant search for excellence is in our consciousness.

For us lawyers, is excellent knowledge of the law enough? It is not. 

Our profession is the “priesthood of justice.”[3] This ideal is not unknown to a Sillimanian lawyer.

Silliman University was conceived in love and founded on faith. It’s motto is Via, Veritas, Vita. The University “recognizes and respects its own Christian ideals, heritage and traditions, and its faith in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Silliman University is an enabler of great learning by building in each person a unity of competence, character and faith and with a deep sense of social responsibility.”[4]

Silliman University’s Mission is to infuse into the academic learning the Christian faith anchored on the gospel of Jesus Christ; and to provide opportunities for growth and excellence in every dimension of the University life in order to strengthen character, competence and faith, among others.[5]

In other words, Silliman University’s brand of education is Christian education.  A Silliman law student undergoes the MCLE, no, I am not talking about the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education,[6] but what I call the Mandatory Christian Legal Education one receives from the College.

In accord with the university’s precepts, the College has adopted as its battlecry – LAW WITH A CONSCIENCE, where the College “seeks to teach its students not just the correct understanding of legal provisions and principles but their  ethical  implementation to society and people . . . “[7]

The College celebrates its 80th Year Anniversary this year, and the Silliman University Law Alumni Association (SULAW) has affirmed its aim by adopting “Law with a Conscience: Now and Always,” as its theme for this year’s celebration.

I am so happy that SULAW believes in the “forever.” Indeed, we need lawyers with a conscience “forevermore.” Despite the laws and lawyers, we are still visited with lawlessness.

I need not burden you with the statistics on crime, discrimination and corruption which bag the headlines in our print, broadcast, and social media. The common thread is moral depravity – the root cause of abuse of power, a wrong sense of entitlement and greed, both for the common man and those in positions of leadership and power. What is most unfortunate is when the violator is a lawyer, who uses his knowledge of the law to break the law.

We learn the law, then use the law. How we use the law depends on how we understand the law.

Is the law to be obeyed or broken? Is the law to be respected or scorned? Is it an instrument for good or evil?

Jesus warned us against those who misunderstand the law: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cumin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone.”[8]

How we understand the law is how we understand ourselves.

This brings us to the first question in our Criminal Law class when Justice Aldecoa asked us, “What is law?” I later realized that he was not asking for a textbook answer. He wanted to know what we perceive the law to be.  By defining the law, we defined ourselves.

I guess, from there, our professor got a sense of how much work is needed to be done to mold us as Sillimanian lawyers. I would like to believe that our professors’ efforts have not been in vain. Afterall, they not only instructed law, but instilled in us Christian values and character as well.  Their aim is “to produce competent, honest and dedicated lawyers motivated by the ideals of truth, justice and Christian love.”[9] Thus, we, graduates of Silliman, are supposed to view our work not as a profession, but as a vocation. This is what sets a Sillimanian apart from the other lawyers, as he or she will use his or her Christian education not to earn a living, but to have a life. A life of service, responsibility and leadership in the government and in the private sector. [10]

As Condoleezza Rice[11] had advised, “by combining [our] understanding of the law with [our] understanding of God’s ways [we] will broaden our perspective and multiply [our] accomplishments and good works.”[12]

I believe that when our understanding of the law is grounded on Christian faith, when we practice law with a conscience – we justify ourselves as Sillimanians, and we sanctify ourselves as Christians. Only then can we truly say that we are abogados y abogadas de campanilla, both here, in the temporal, and there, in the Eternal.


[1] Speech delivered by Madame Justice Pamela Ann A. Maxino, on the occasion of the 27th General Assembly of the Silliman University Law Alumni Association where she was awarded the 2015 Outstanding SULAW Award by a unanimous decision of the SULAW Awards Committee. It was held on August 22, 2015, at the Venancio Aldecoa, Jr. Moot Court and Lecture Hall, Villareal Hall, Silliman University, Dumaguete City.

[2] Including qualified offenses, excluding repealed offenses, i.e. gambling, drugs, as well as death and physical injuries under exceptional circumstances.

[3]In Re Tagorda, 53 Phil. 57;Ledesma v. Climaco, G.R. No. 12815, June 28, 1974.

[4] Nos. 2 and 3, General Statements, Code of Christian Collegiality.

[5] visited August 18, 2015.

[6] Pursuant to Bar Matter No. 850 and its Implementing Regulations.

[7] visited August 18, 2015.

[8] Matthew 23:23, The Holy Bible, Douay Reims Version (Revised by Bishop Richard Challoner).

[9] visited August 18, 2015.


[11] National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush.

[12] Graduation Address at the Mississippi College of Law, May 16, 2003.