By Archiebald Faller- Capila
The practice of law, as emphasized in law school, is not a business-making venture meant for personal gain. It is a catalyst for change. It is a tool to serve those who have less in life and give them a fair chance in the eyes of the greatest equalizer of all—the law.
Our legal profession is imbued with trust and confidence. It must always be meant to observe fair dealings at the equal scales of justice. Indeed, lawyers serve as the officers of the Court who need to uphold their respective duties of promoting welfare through the law.
In law school, students are taught to respect the law and use it for the greater good. While there may be a lot of legal fields that a practitioner may engage in to fulfill that purpose, there is one that stands out the most which basically defends the indigent clients who have no money or resource to avail of private legal services. This is where the Public Attorney’s Office enters.
The Public Attorney’s Office serves as one of the pillars of our legal system. Public Attorneys serve as the counsel for indigent clients who cannot in any way or manner avail of other lawyers. The aforesaid office serves as the last bastion of hope for most Filipinos considering their given social status and capacity.
However, it is not new to many that before, not a lot of graduates would practice their profession through public employment. Not many graduates of the law would choose to work for the Public Attorney’s Office. However, time has been a witness to the paradigm shift. Young graduates are eager to help more than ever. Young graduates see this as an opportunity to help a lot of people. For them, becoming a Public Attorney is a calling. For them, becoming a Public Attorney is the perfect representation of lawyering for the less fortunate.
In the long list of Public Attorneys in the country, Atty. Mylene Anito-Guhiling took some time to enlighten us on how things work for the PAO and how she eventually copes with the burdens accompanying the practice of law therein. In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Anito-Guhiling shares with us her life as a Public Attorney, her journey towards the said venture, and her message to all aspiring lawyers who would want to engage in public practice, particularly that of the Public Attorney’s Office.
Barrista Solutions: Looking back at how you started your career in law, how can you describe your journey as a member of the profession?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: I started my career in law as an Associate Lawyer at one of the respected law firms in Davao City after I took my oath as a lawyer in 2009. And when I started to engage in public practice as a Public Attorney in 2010, I was initially pressured and overstretched by the overwhelming clients and cases I handled. I was a fresh lawyer then, and if my memory is correct, I handled around 600 cases for the two municipal trial courts assigned to me. That was really a challenge.
As years went by, I adapted to all the challenges of being a Public Attorney. One thing is certain though, despite the number of cases I handled and the number of clients I served, the quality of legal service and representation I offer is not inferior to the other members of the legal profession. I do my job with passion, commitment, and with excellence in mind. And it has always been a fulfilling legal journey, even worth every ounce of stress.
Barrista Solutions: For you, what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in law school? What lessons did you learn from your studies that you continue to reflect on today?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: The biggest obstacle I had to overcome in law school was the STRESS! I believe if law school really makes you stressed, then you’re doing it right because that’s how it’s naturally supposed to be. Haha! Law school is only for those who are willing to embrace stress and anxiety because it is definitely not a carefree road.
And one of the main lessons I learned from law school was stress management. In order to survive, you have to deal with and manage your stress, and not to immerse yourself in it. Being able to manage stress was also one of the leading factors I survive in my current career. As an employee of what is considered as the principal law office of the government, I have to manage work-related stress because at the end of the day, it’s not about the number of cases and clients I deal with those matters, but how I carry them.
Barrista Solutions: As a lawyer, what adjustments did you make so as to adapt to the new normal because of the current health crisis around the world?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: Because of the pandemic, lawyers, especially the courts, implemented necessary steps to adapt to the new normal so they can continue to hear and speedily dispose of cases. We have been using videoconferencing in the conduct of court hearings instead of the traditional face-to-face hearings. Pleadings may now also be filed in court and furnished to counsels through electronic communications like email.
Barrista Solutions: What drove you to pursue a career in public service, particularly that of the Public Attorney’s Office?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: While still studying law, I never really imagined myself becoming a Public Attorney. My prayer then was, “Lord, I promise to use my profession for your greater glory. Just make me a lawyer.” But my prayer has a caveat, “But not with PAO Lord…” Lol!! Working with PAO didn’t appeal to me then. I’ll be a CPA-Lawyer when I pass the Bar, and I imagined myself to be a corporate lawyer.
But, along the way, things happen that’ll make you change your mind. It was as if the Lord reminded me, “Nasaan na yung kaek-ekan mong use your profession for my greater glory…” lol! God whispered at the right time, and I complied and pursued. And indeed, it was fruitful and rewarding obedience to God’s command.
Barrista Solutions: For you, how important is it to have lawyers representing indigent clients in various legal engagements?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: It is not just important but it is indispensable that there be lawyers representing the indigents in all cases, especially now that we are facing difficult times brought by the pandemic. A lot of people are still within and even below the national poverty line, and these people also encountered legal issues in different aspects. The lack of money dissuades them from pursuing and/or defending their valid and legal claims/defenses. Hence, having lawyers who can give them free legal representation will somehow at least stabilize the equilibrium of economic inequality.
Barrista Solutions: During your stint in the Public Attorney’s Office, what is the most memorable case that you have handled and how did this improve or affect your approach towards public lawyering?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: All acquitted criminal cases that I defended and fought for with the accused screaming his/her innocence are memorable. For me, it’s a realization of every lawyer’s role as guardians not just of the law but of justice. Appearing for the accused isn’t just a case of appearing for the lawbreakers but it includes appearing even for the wrongfully accused persons, and our duty is to ensure that due process is afforded to them and that justice is served. Actually, my motivation to defend the accused with zeal comes from my belief that they are innocent. That is, they should be able to convince me first that they are really innocent of the crime charged.
Barrista Solutions: If you could give a piece of advice or any form of a message to your younger self, what would it be?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: There is no limit to what you can do and achieve. There is no limit to what you will become. Everything is designed by God before you ask for it. Stay positive, and stay grounded. Always keep your faith.
Barrista Solutions: What is your message for those who wish to engage in the practice of law through the Public Attorney’s Office?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: Fresh lawyers perceive Public Attorney’s Office as a good training ground to practice law. Indeed, it is. But PAO is more than that. The needs of the client and the quantity of clients and cases handled by our office demands passion and commitment to public service because it is only with such passion that a Public Attorney can give service with excellence. And regardless of the loads of cases and clients we cater to everyday, one should have the heart to serve as it is only when you have the heart will you be able to give service to the public with a smile.
Barrista Solutions: What are your tips and words of wisdom to all the students of the law out there trying to be a part of the legal profession someday?
Atty. Anito-Guhiling: Regardless of your motivation and reason in entering law school, be prepared, and I mean be seriously prepared because what lies ahead of you is not an easy road. You will experience numerous bumps and humps and nightmares, might be in the form of failing grades – which is actually very normal in law schools I tell you, or being required to stand up throughout the class for not being able to recite the facts, issues and ruling of a case, or being assigned to read thirty cases for the next class’ oral recitation, and the list is endless. It’s okay to fail, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel traumatized, but at the end of the day, give yourself a thumbs-up for trying hard, and then treat yourself some cakes and ice cream! Persevere, and never give up. Believe in yourself, study hard, pray harder, and you will be unstoppable. Good luck and God bless!
*Atty. Anito-Guhiling graduated BS Accountancy in Ateneo de Davao University. She passed the CPA Board Examinations on May, 2002. She took her law degree in Ateneo de Davao College of Law and completed the same on October, 2007. She passed the 2008 Bar Examinations and took her oath as a lawyer in 2009. She was one of the Associate Lawyers of Batacan Montejo and Vicencio Law Firm before she joined the Public Attorney’s Office in 2010.