Few lawyers are able to shatter the public's perception that their profession is one that is characterized by connivance, deception and moral ambiguity. Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez is one of them. Perhaps even fewer share his commitment to bring the law to those who need it the most. Whether in front of a judge or in front of his class, Barry stays true to his credo of standing up for the underdog.
His students at the University of the Philippines College of Law have anecdotes of hearing his booming voice from one end of the hallway to the other end, as much his trademark as his clear – even stubborn – bias for an interpretation of the law that favors the poor and promotes the full expression of their rights.
As Director of the Institute of Human Rights, one of the leading academic and research institutions in the Philippines, Barry has emphasized the need to make human rights education not only the purview of lawyers and academics, but also those whose rights are often rendered vulnerable by poverty, joblessness, lack of decent housing and the like. True to his commitment to human rights, Barry is a staunch and vocal defender of women's rights – a passion he shares with his wife Maya Naya Tamayo, with whom he has two young children.
Barry could well have pursued a distinguished career in the academe or chose to become a hot-shot lawyer to the moneyed and famous. Instead, he opted to tread a path that would put him at loggerheads with inept and abusive public officials and exploitative corporations.
His academic credentials at the University of the Philippines, where he finished his undergraduate degree (cum laude) and his law degree, and at the New York University, where he completed his Masters of Laws, Major in Economic and Social Rights and International Law, are sterling. But he saw that there was much to be done, and too few people willing to do it. Rolling up his sleeves, Barry took on pro-bono legal cases representing cash-strapped non-government organizations questioning anti-people government policies, urban poor and peasant groups facing tenurial insecurity, as well as individuals asserting their civil and political rights before the Courts.
Barry is known for acting as counsel in high-profile and landmark cases like Randy David's petition to nullify Presidential Proclamation 1017 and Etta Rosales's case against the midnight appointment of the Chief Justice, but go to this urban poor community in Santolan, Pasig, under constant threat of demolition and they will tell you readily what they know him best for: for being the lawyer who stood up in their behalf when no one else would.
Barry is also a good governance advocate – a passion that begun perhaps during his stint as Chairperson of the University Student Council at UP. He believes that good governance can best be achieved by opening up meaningful channels of participation and allowing citizens access to information. He is likewise committed to pushing for electoral reforms, and was in fact co-convenor of the Compact for Peaceful and Democratic Elections (COMPACT). In 2007, he succeeded in pushing COMELEC to publicly release the names of partylist nominees – an ostensibly simple policy change that led to alarming revelations on how the party-list system's goals were being subverted. He believes that those who have nothing to hide should have no reason to fear.
AKBAYAN indeed fearlessly casts its lot with Barry Gutierrez in the 2013 elections because it believes that he represents the kind of leadership this country needs at present: daring and innovative, but steadfast and accountable. That booming voice will have much to say.