“The Tooth Shall Set You Free” is a variation of the biblical quote “The truth will set you free” that became the mantra of senatorial candidate Atty. Chel Diokno.

” Vēritās vōs līberābit” in Latin, it is a statement derived from verse John 8:32 where Jesus Christ addresses a group of Jews who believed in him. The truth is meant to represent Christianity, God, or Jesus which will set you free from worldly impediments such as sin, misery, or ignorance.

Diokno became popular because of his teeth. Every time pressing issues arise, Duterte and his followers throw ad hominem attacks against him by criticizing his teeth.

President Duterte insulted Diokno for his teeth after he accused the human rights lawyer of resorting to black propaganda amid the government’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“ Kaya hindi ka nanalo kasi kalaki ng ngipin mo. Magsalita kalahati ng panga mo lumalabas. ( You did not win because your teeth is big. Whenever you speak, half of your mouth shows).
But Diokno embraced it by saying that “dapat may ngipin ang batas” (The law must have teeth) as part of his advocacy for a better judicial system.

After earning a degree in Philosophy at the UP Diliman, he studied at the UP College of Law for a year until 1983 and then went to Northern Illinois University (NIU) where he graduated Juris Doctor, magna cum laude and passed the Illinois Bar. He went back to the Philippines where he passed the 1988 Bar Examinations.

He was the founding dean of the De La Salle University College of Law.

As part of his platform, Diokno said that the justice system should be reformed to ensure that the rights of every individual are protected and to promote social justice.

Diokno pointed out that although the Supreme Court has released circulars to speed up the justice system, the problem in its implementation is primarily attributable to the lack of prosecutors and judges to handle the cases.

He also noted that certainty of punishment and speedy and efficient disposition of justice is key to stopping corruption and criminality.

I had the chance to be trained on alternative lawyering as a student volunteer of Diokno’s Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) which is a nationwide organization of lawyers who provide free legal aid to victims of abuse and indigent Filipinos who could not afford to avail themselves of legal services.

FLAG was founded in 1974 by Senators Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada, and Joker Arroyo during the martial law era under former President Ferdinand Marcos.

I was then a member of the UP Paralegal Volunteers’ Organization (UP PVO) which is devoted to the formation of law students equipped with the necessary skills to empower communities and basic sectors through paralegal training education.

His father, former Senator Jose “Pepe” Diokno once said, “a lawyer must work in freedom, and there is no freedom when conformity is extracted by fear, and criticism silenced by force.”

Passing the bar is not enough. Ultimately, being a good lawyer is a different thing.

There will be those who will join the law offices for private practice while others will go to the government, judiciary, politics, or the academe.

And there’s alternative lawyering.

It is a legal practice either individually or through legal resource organizations that work with the poor and marginalized groups, identities, and communities towards their empowerment, greater access to justice, and building peace.

Alternative lawyers do often take on careers outside of the mainstream, but what differentiates their work is their commitment to a different route to, and conception of, justice.

Many alternative lawyers are guided by the words of former President Ramon Magsaysay: ”Those who have less in life should have more in law.”

The poor who have fewer resources in relation to the rich will often have to bank on the law to safeguard their rights.

In building a more accessible, inclusive, and dynamic justice system, all remedies allowed by law should be completely exhausted for their protection. The semblance of being given “more” in law is imperative to equip them with the chance of equality which they do not enjoy.

Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are seasoned lawyers among others who passed their whole lives in pursuit of the emancipation of human beings.

Lawyers, as professionals, are expected to uphold the ethical and moral values that are said to be essential to the fabric that holds society together.

Let us hope that Chel’s mantra “The tooth shall set you free” reverberates in the legislative halls.

(Peyups is the monicker of the University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786).

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