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Beyond Book-Smart: An Interview with Atty. Gideon Peña

Updated: Jun 12, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Time has been a witness to how lawyers are often stereotyped in society. More often than not, lawyers are always imagined to be know-it-all, arrogant, authoritative, and think highly of themselves. These are only a few of the characteristics our lawyers are usually called and branded. Accordingly, the same could even be a reason why only a few people engage with and join the acquaintance of any member of the legal profession.

But in our community, we all know that such a notion is not true. The legal profession is a circle of colorful personalities—a melting pot of men and women who are great achievers in their respective rights. Those engaged in the legal profession are noble personalities who, in fact, cultivate a culture of inclusivity.

And while there may be two different worlds that look at the legal professions through different perspectives, there are some lawyers who still stand out. Some lawyers get the best of both worlds and get appreciated by the members of the society—hailing from both legal and non-legal communities. Because of their brilliance and ability to connect to people, they become icons bigger than their names—names even bigger than their personal stories.

Among the well-loved practitioners today is none other than Atty. Gideon V. Peña—a young and progressive lawyer who has been the talk of the town for quite a time. Aside from being a professor of law and a lawyer engaged in different services, Atty. Peña has also become a mainstay in the small circle of legal practitioners who are also social media personalities.

However, like any other narrative, the things we see in social media do not tell the whole story behind it. There lies a bigger picture behind every post, status, story, or tweet. There is a multitude of factors we need to consider in order to know who Atty. Peña is as a lawyer, a professor, and a colorful personality most law students look up to.

Atty. Peña shares with us how he handles social media presence, his favorite and recommended books and songs, and a message to those who are working hard to be lawyers in the near future.

Barrista Solutions: You are one of the more prominent figures in social media today among lawyers and law students. Does your personality in these online platforms reflect that of your personality in person, both as a practitioner and as a member of the academe?

Atty. Peña: I have learned to compartmentalize. My students can attest that who I am in social media or even outside the classroom is far different from who I am inside its four walls. I’m also generally more rigid in matters involving work.

Barrista Solutions: How do you deal with critics and bashers, especially in the realm of social media?

Atty. Peña: There are critics that I listen to, there are bashers that I respond to, and there are those who I simply ignore.

Sometimes we learn and grow by listening to our critics while there are times that we can become vain or bitter. Because there are no hard-and-fast rules, the challenge has always been deciding how to react and deciding when to listen. In most cases, my guide has always been: will this lead to a fruitful discussion or will this educate others who are lurking and who are reading along.

It helps when you have friends who would keep you in line and tell you when you go overboard who at the same time encourage you to keep on speaking your truth.

Barrista Solutions: Members of the profession consider you as one of the young and progressive legal minds today. If any, who served as your inspiration or role models in pursuing the career that you have right now?

Atty. Peña: I have always admired Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada, and Jovito Salonga, lawyers who fought no matter the odds during one of the country’s most turbulent times. In a world obsessed with batting averages, they concerned themselves more with taking a principled stand.

Barrista Solutions: If any, who is your favorite law professor, and author of law books, and why?

Atty. Peña: My favorite professors were Justice Ronald Moreno (Criminal Procedure) and Atty. Henedino Brondial (Civil Procedure). They were among the toughest professors in FEU Law and they exacted the highest standards during our classes. But their toughness was tempered by fairness and reason. They did not make things difficult just for the sake of making them difficult. When we thought it was impossible to memorize kilometric codal provisions along with reading thick books and tons of cases, they motivated us to defy the limitations we set upon ourselves. They made us rely on hard work, and not on luck.

Barrista Solutions: What book or article could you consider as the most influential in your life? Accordingly, what line or phrase strikes you the most in that material, and why?

Atty. Peña: Gideon’s Trumpet by Anthony Lewis. I read it back in college because the title caught my attention (for obvious reasons). But I was surprised with the depth of the story: “how one man, a poor prisoner, took his case to the Supreme Court – and changed the laws of the United States.”

I was struck by the line, “[t]hose who had known him, even the men who had arrested him and those who were now his jailers, considered Gideon a perfectly harmless human being, rather likeable, but tossed aside by life.”

It tells us how someone may be adjudged guilty not because he is but because he does not know how to defend himself. For when the full force of the state is used against a person, how do we expect him to defend himself in a manner that he is not aware of?

Barrista Solutions: What is your favorite quote from a decided case of the Supreme Court? Accordingly, how do you use the same as a motivation to keep on teaching the future generation of lawyers?

Atty. Peña: “No attorney is bound to know all the law; God forbid that it should be imagined that an attorney or a counsel or even a judge, is bound to know all the law.” (In re: Filart, 40 Phil 205, 208 citing Montorious v. Jefferys, 2 Car. & P. 113)

In moments of victory, this is a reminder to be humble. For while I may have succeeded, I still do not know everything.

In moments of struggle, this is a reminder to be forgiving to one’s self. Because no matter what we do, it is our human limitation not to be able to know everything. We just need to keep on learning; to keep on going.

These twin reminders motivate me to teach the future generation of lawyers; to never form judgment against students for their failure to answer a question or two but to challenge them to continuously learn and grow. And though I may not be able to teach them everything, I strive my best to teach them enough to help them in the bar and in what comes after.

Barrista Solutions: The current pandemic has led to lockdown protocols which eventually showcased hidden talents and hobbies from people all over the country. If any, what are the new things you have tried and discovered about yourself during this “new normal”?

Atty. Peña: I have been learning to speak Spanish since the start of the pandemic. I also started a Passion Project on social media called “Legally Speaking” to give tips and pieces of advice relating to law and law school.

Barrista Solutions: When this pandemic ends, what are the first few things you are planning to do? Accordingly, if you’ll be given the chance, what is the first place you will visit?

Atty. Peña: Travel around Spain. ¿Quieres entrar conmigo?

Barrista Solutions: What are the top songs and movies could you recommend to all lawyers and law students out there trying to escape their respective “new normal” routine?

Atty. Peña: I recommend Phantoms and Friends by Old Man Canyon and C’est La Vie by Bobby Bazini. Their lines go, “don't let the ones that want to steal your dreams | they'll steal your dreams away | just laugh and let it go” and “c'est la vie, sometimes you gotta let things be… [but] I'm not the best to give advises 'cause I've been learning, learning | I know what it's like.”

For movies, Enola Holmes (which recently premiered on Netflix) and if you’re up for something that’s socially relevant and profound, I’d recommend the Stoning of Soraya M.

Barrista Solutions: Looking back at your young legal career as well as your journey as a law student, what could you consider as your biggest regret, if any?

Atty. Peña: Privileged information (haha!)

Barrista Solutions: If you could give a piece of advice or any form of message to your younger self, what would it be?

Atty. Peña: Do what you have to do. People will judge you anyway.

Barrista Solutions: What is your message to all the students of the law out there trying to be a part of the legal profession someday?

Atty. Peña: Have a meaningful reason and purpose; it will help you go through the bad days and appreciate the good days even more.

· Atty. Gideon V. Peña is a Professor of Law at the Far Eastern University Institute of Law and the Manila Law College.

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