2024 Area Pacific Conference: To the Last, the Least, and the Lost

The 2024 Area Pacific Conference of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society was held at the picturesque Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Lapu-lapu City, Cebu, Philippines. From May 31 to June 1, this year's conference has drawn legal professionals, scholars, and law students from different faiths across the Pacific region, united under the poignant theme, “To the Last, the Least and the Lost.” Notably, the Philippines Area hosted the Asia Pacific Conference for the first time, marking a significant milestone in the society’s history.

The theme underscored the JRCLS’ commitment to serving those most vulnerable and marginalized in society, reflecting the core values of integrity, compassion, and the pursuit of justice. It aims to inspire participants to use their legal expertise to advocate for the rights and needs of the underserved and overlooked populations.

The first day of the conference began with opening remarks by Atty. Marie Siton, the Philippines Area Events Chair via Zoom while in Cornell in New York. Atty. Annette Jarvis, the Immediate Past International Chair of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, then introduced the law society's mission statement as it relates to the theme. Rigel Belleza, Chair of the Philippines Student Chapter, led a session on forging friendships and synergies, setting a collaborative tone for the conference with games like “Human Bingo” and Secret Sibling.

The afternoon sessions began with "Unearthing Wisdom: Who are the 'Last' in Society?" where Atty. Mary Ann Ojeda - Isidro, Philippines Area Chair interviewed Atty. Michelle G. Mendez-Palmares, Deputy Governor of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Eastern Visayas Region, about the "Humanity Behind Bars” project. This Jail Decongestion and Management Program, which won the Most Outstanding Legal Aid Project at the IBP’s 50th Anniversary in 2023, serves as an inspiration for reaching out to persons deprived of liberty and helping them in their quest for justice and a second chance in life.

Next, the session "Bridging Needs for the 'Least' of Our Fellowmen" featured Atty. Lalaine Manahan - Urbino as host, with insights from Hon. Aris Montilla, Presiding Judge of MCTC Masbate, Atty. Matthew Pawson, JRCLS Pacific Area Chair, Prosecutor Esmeralda Hernandez Paco-Adille, and Atty. Ronald Mark Lleno of SyCip Law. The panelists emphasized how their religious convictions profoundly influence their practice of law, shaping ethical frameworks, guiding professional conduct, and inspiring a commitment to justice and public service. They also shared their passion for looking after children who are victims of abuse and children in conflict with the law. 

The final session, "Advocates of Inclusion: Law and Eternal Life," was led by Dean David H. Moore of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He highlighted the importance of pro bono work and the role of lawyers in effecting positive social change where legal interventions have significantly impacted individuals and communities, reinforcing the conference's theme.

As the conference progressed, it continued to emphasize its mission to support and advocate for society's most vulnerable members.

The day concluded with a cultural night at Orion Beach, highlighted by a keynote speech from Retired Associate Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr. of the Supreme Court of the Philippines who admonished everyone to be advocates for the rule of law and advocates for environmental justice. Attendees enjoyed a resort chic dinner, celebrating the rich cultural heritage of Cebu through cultural presentations whilst fostering a spirit of camaraderie.

The second day featured a blend of reflective moments, networking opportunities, and recognition of outstanding service.

The day began with a serene Sunrise Testimony and Morning Exercises session at Galapagos Beach in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. Participants, donned in their JRCLS Event tees, gathered to start the day with inspiring reflections, invigorating exercises and enjoyed a photoshoot on the sand right after the early morning program. 

​​Following this, attendees engaged in a Breakfast Networking session, fostering connections and discussions among legal professionals and scholars.

Students then had a breakout session with Professor Eric Jensen and Dean David H. Moore from the J. Reuben Clark Law School of Brigham Young University. This session provided a unique opportunity for students to interact closely with esteemed educators.

The morning culminated with the Final Session, where Forrest Hansen, JRCLS Executive Director spoke about the JRCLS May Month of Service and some of his service experiences to the “last, the least, and the lost”. Then Atty. Marian Dupal-ag Wooldrige, Philippines Area Service Chair and presented the Philippines Franklin S. Richards Pro Bono Legal Service Award to Atty. Lalaine Manahan-Urbino, Atty. Rodrigo Reyna, Atty. Mary Ann L. Ojeda-Isidro, and Atty. Karol Josef S. Gutierrez for their exemplary pro bono service of 60 hours or more for year 2023. Additional awards were given to Atty. Marie Fe Siton as the Outstanding Chapter Chair and Rigel Belleza as the Outstanding Student Chapter Chair.

Jonathan Toronto from the Office of General Counsel-Philippines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivered closing remarks, highlighting the service contributions and impacts of the society's members. He shared how he and his family appreciate the things they learned from their experience while serving in the Philippines.

Participants spent the afternoon simultaneously doing an Endowment Session at the Cebu Philippines Temple and exploring Cebu – visiting Magellan’s Cross, Sto. Nino Basilica, and Sirao Pictorial Garden.

The day concluded with a festive “Dinner and Karaoke Night”, providing a relaxed and entertaining atmosphere for attendees to unwind and celebrate the conference's successes.

The 2024 Area Pacific Conference of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society continues to exemplify the society's dedication to service, collaboration, and professional excellence. The two-day event was hosted by Shaira Kay Gonzaga and Reggienald Arevalo with support from Mikyla Janine Cordero and Atty. Ma. Stephanie Faye Agcarao.

Authors: Joanna Cristabelle Belleza, Mary Ann L. Ojeda-Isidro, and Jonathan Toronto