The Philippine Bar Association is the oldest voluntary national organization of lawyers in the Philippines. It traces its roots to the Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas organized on April 8, 1891 and the bar association organized by American lawyers in the Philippines in 1900.
The Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas consisted of all lawyers residing in Manila and those mentioned in Sections 468 and 469 of the Royal Decree of January 5, 1891. The organizational meeting was held at the Audiencia building under the presidency of Magistrado Eduardo de Orduna of the Audiencia de Manila. Jose Juan de Icaza, who was among those elected to the first executive board, was appointed Decano by the Gobernador Heneral. Shortly after organization, the Colegio adopted its estatutos which, among other purposes, incorporated the association and granted it juridical personality and quasi-judicial powers, and created a tribunal to try and discipline its members for offenses punishable with reprimand, fine, or expulsion.
Merging of Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas and PBA
During the Philippine Revolution that started in 1896, many members of the Colegio joined the revolutionary movement. Apolinario Mabini, a Colegio member, became known as the brains of the Philippine Revolution. After the revolution, Felipe Calderon, who drafted the Malolos Constitution, reorganized the Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas.
The American occupation of the Philippines brought American lawyers to the country in 1900. They organized themselves into an association similar to the American Bar Association.
On June 24, 1904 under the inspiration of Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano, the Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas and the association of American lawyers in the Philippines merged to form the Philippine Bar Association. An American, Thomas L. Hartigan, was elected as the first president of the PBA. Distinguished members of the PBA at that time included Felipe Calderon, Gregorio Araneta, Felipe Buencamino, Rafael Del Pan, Ramon Diokno, and Juan Sumulong.
The split in the ranks of the PBA in 1913 due to difference of opinion regarding the Judiciary Act was patched up in 1917. The PBA was reorganized and was governed by an executive board of eleven (11) members who elected the president, two vice presidents, a secretary, and a treasurer.
Jose Abad Santos was elected President of the PBA in 1924 and was re-elected several times. He was appointed Secretary of Justice, and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. On May 2, 1942, he was executed by the Japanese for refusing collaboration. The fall of Intramuros on February 24, 1945 destroyed the PBA building at Aduana and Arzobispo Streets.
On August 1, 1946, upon proposal of the PBA, the Department of Justice issued Administrative Order No. 162 adopting the Canons of Judicial Ethics, patterned after the Canons of Judicial Ethics of the American Bar Association.
Incorporation of PBA
On March 27, 1958 the Philippine Bar Association was formally incorporated as the direct successor of the Colegio de Abogados de Filipinas. The incorporators were: Federico Agrava, Jesus G. Barrera, Francisco T. Dalupan, Enrique M. Fernando, Ricardo C. Lacson, Martin B. Laurea, Manuel Lim, Leoncio B. Monzon, Francisco Ortigas, Jr., Roman Ozaeta, Claro M. Recto, J.B.L. Reyes, Jovito R. Salonga, Lorenzo M. Tanada, and Jorge B. Vargas.
On September 19, 1959 President Carlos P. Garcia proclaimed September 19 every year as Law Day. Since then the PBA celebrates and holds its induction of officers on Law Day.
The City of Manila donated to the PBA its building site in 1965. The postwar PBA building was constructed in 1966 but the earthquake in Manila in 1968 destroyed the building.
PBA and the Martial Law
The PBA joined the nation in condemning the proclamation of martial law in 1972, mourning the assassination of Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. on August 21, 1983, and welcoming the return of democracy on February 25, 1986. During martial law, the PBA investigated various violations of human rights and successfully won cases for the release of many detainees.
On September 8, 1988, the PBA transferred to its present Makati office.
Towards a bright future
The PBA opposed moves to amend the Philippine Constitution. In 2001, some officers and members of the PBA actively participated in the prosecution of the impeachment case against the incumbent President.
On Law Day, September 19, 2003, the PBA rallied everyone to “Let the Supreme Court Remain Supreme and The Rule of Law Continue to Rule”. The PBA is one of the petitioners that questioned the second impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. On November 10, 2003, the Supreme Court declared the second impeachment complaint unconstitutional.
The PBA condemned the bestial massacre in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009 of 58 people (mostly women, two of them female lawyers, and some journalists) and called on the authorities to punish the murderers.
The PBA was the lead organization that questioned the “midnight appointments” before the automated elections on May 10, 2010.
The PBA commended the Senate, sitting as an Impeachment Court under the fair and firm leadership of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, for its May 29, 2012 historic decision (voting 20 for, 3 against) to remove from office the Chief Justice.
The PBA continues its constant watch to uphold the Rule of Law.
(Revised and updated by Past President Antonio R. Velicaria)