Magsaysay scholar gives back

Lawyer Zharmai Garcia sees herself still volunteering for the program while fighting  courtroom battles in years to come.

Whether she’s in a courtroom litigating or on the ground doing the leg work for her cases, feisty yet soft-spoken lawyer Zharmai Garcia  seizes every opportunity to give back to the marginalized.

This fellow at the Center for International Law (CENTERLAW), a firm that handles public interest cases and libel defense, among others, has the brains and the heart of someone who identifies with the needy. 

The 29-year-old litigator represented and handled significant cases such as Sen. Aquilino Pimentel vs.  Niñez Cacho-Olivarez  and  People of the Philippines vs. Charlie Manalo,et al ; both of which are libel defenses won. She’s now working on a writ of amparo case filed before the Supreme Court.  It seeks to  protect residents of San Andres, Manila from Operation Tokhang.

A UP College of Law Juris Doctor graduate of 2013 and a University of Santo Tomas BA Legal Management graduate of 2009,  Garcia wanted to become a  lawyer at a young age.

At age seven, stories her father, Jose Garcia Jr told her, about human rights struggles during his days with the Labor Union, moved her.  But because of her father’s work as a seafarer,  she only saw him after long months of working at sea. That’s  why moments  like these over family dinner were priceless to her.  

The decision to take up  law  wasn’t easy.  Garcia had to choose between law school right after college, or work.. Her father was 58  that time and  long trips at sea would take a toll on his health.  Hence, she wasn’t sure whether she should pursue  higher education or not.

Then came her lifeline.

Her father’s employer put up the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation Education Assistance Program under the Homer Foundation.  And she was able to fulfill her dream.  

Garcia passed rigorous examinations and requirements and got a scholarship that  covered part of her tuition and expenses for books and materials for her  four years in law school.

“The scholarship program provided assurance for my family that I would finish law school without compromising the health of my parents, especially my father, who was nearing  retirement age,” she said.

She began to appreciate the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which is driven by the WE CARE principle: caring for the employees/seafarers and their families, the community, and the maritime industry.

“Beyond the salary which they provide, the company looks after the seafarers and their families. We feel valued and cared for not just financially but in every aspect.”

She adds, “A holistic approach on caring is what sets the company apart. The good thing about Magsaysay’s CSR is it doesn’t stop among ourselves, the beneficiaries. Instead, we’re  encouraged to give back and pay it forward through volunteer opportunities for other stakeholders.”

Garcia said that qualifying for the scholarship and maintaining it for four years was challenging.

“I realized that not all are given the opportunity for higher learning and not all employees and workers have a company that offers this unique opportunity. This pushed me through sleepless nights, tons and tons of law school materials,  hardships, and  every temptation to quit.”

She attributes her success to this organization that instilled a sense of responsibility in her as a scholar. Now that she is a full-fledged lawyer practicing for five years, she  volunteers in administering exams to aspiring scholars and facilitating student leadership programs..

“Sustainability is practiced by ensuring continuity of the program. The dynamics has been for graduates or the older scholars to give back and mentor the younger scholars through these leadership camps. ”

She sees herself still volunteering for the program while fighting  courtroom battles in years to come.