Philippines: A Lawyer to the Poor

“Avoid corruption and help the poor who need legal services,” is a life principle of Nelson B. Borja, 71, a senior trial lawyer specialising in criminal cases, who distinguished himself for providing free legal service to the poor.

“As a lawyer, it is also my wish to make a humble contribution for the improvement of our county’s judicial system and to give more emphasis on serving the poor, the sick, and the elderly, and obtain a fair trial of their cases with the assistance of private lawyers whose competent services would attract a high-paying compensation if the government would subsidise a pro-poor legal service program,” Nelson said.

Borja has a great deal of dedication, perseverance, tact and devotion to his profession and commitment to the poor providing them free legal service as a matter of his faith and genuine service to them. “The poor would not be deprived of my service. The poor deserve it. It is my personal faith commitment to help them as a Catholic and as an attorney,” he said.

This concern for the poor stems from his early days as he would not forget his own struggles and hardships in the past.

Before engaging into his law practice, Borja toiled the soil and plowed the fields of Barangay Linateran, Panay, Capiz where he was born on June 11, 1947. He earned his way throughout his primary education by gathering nipa in the swamps of his village, and on weekends counting catch in a small fishpond nearby where his father was caretaker.

He entered Capiz High School in 1959 with only P. 30 centavos in his pocket for transportation. Later, he enrolled at the Colegio de la Purisima Concepcion in Roxas City as a student of Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education but the lack of money prevented him from finishing the course.

His aspiration of serving the armed forces drove Borja to enroll in the College of Criminology and Penology at the University of Manila in 1969 and went on to enroll in the College of Law in the same university in 1973. He finished his Bachelor of Laws in 1978 and passed the bar examinations in the same year.

He took his oath as a lawyer before the Supreme Court on May 17, 1979 with a promise of promotions, including an automatic elevation to the Judge Advocate General’s Office with the rank of first lieutenant. Being a lawyer, he was assigned as the Intelligence Officer of North Sector, PC-Metrocom in Sikatuna Village, Quezon City.

He started his full-time law practice in 1982 as a Notary Public occupying only a table and chair at a restaurant. After six months, he was able to acquire second hand furniture to furnish his small law office.  To update his knowledge on the trends of lawyering, he attended seven seminars on Trial Technique and Procedure at the U.P. Law Centre from 1983 to 1985, thereby giving him the opportunity to serve his clients and thus distinguished himself in the field of law as a busy practitioner, especially in many celebrated cases.

Two women left deep impact and impressions on Borja as a child and later as an adult and trial lawyer. First, was his mother. Borja credits the roots of his religious fervour to his mother, who attended Mass daily with the family in a local church in the province Capiz.  His mother’s simple act and expression of faith inspired him in a profound way as he endured many hardships along his journey of life.

Years later, he imbibed and learned a lot more about the Catholic faith, saints, religious devotions and piety from his wife, Arcilla, a deeply religious woman. “I have gotten many insights with regards to religion and faith from my mother and wife. Both left indispensable impact in life,” he recalled. Unfortunately, both have passed away, but their religious fervour continues to navigate his life.

His son Niel Anthony S. Borja is also a lawyer, who is presently connected with the SC under Justice Ma. Estela Perlas-Bernabe. The father’s advice to his son is to avoid corruption and help the poor who need legal services.

In sum, Attorney Borja’s contribution as a soldier, as a lawyer and a civic-minded citizen has never been matched in recent times and in his age bracket. Not a few Filipinos have become beneficiaries to his profession, and the public as well. His achievements may serve to inspire the youth aspiring for the better services people need. (Santosh Digal)