Thursday, October 02, 2008

Septembers at Taft

You will recognize an old-er lawyer when s/he invariably shakes his/her head at the organized chaos that is the Bar Ops and mutters soto voce but almost enviously, "we never had this before."

For one that prides itself on not being bar-oriented, UP has jumped wholeheartedly on to the bandwagon that is the Bar Ops. While there are many mixed feelings about this from all quarters, one thing must be said about it: there is value to having an entire institution come out in support of you as you walk along Taft for four (4) Sundays in September.

So, it must be said, and I'll say it here: Congratulations to Arianne Reyes and her team for this year's bar ops; quite aptly called, simply, "100% UP LAW."

When the phrase ("100% UP Law") first came to my mind after 2007's bar ops, I gathered Lobit and PY and pitched it to them, both agreed with the concept; when I asked for names to head bar ops, many came up but one name was common to all three of us: Arianne's. And so it came to pass that before she was even elected VP of the UP LSG, she was already de facto the bar ops head.

I've been to many bar ops but I think this year was one of the best organized (at least from my point of view); it also enjoyed, for once, institutional support coming from no less than the Dean who, after being pleasantly surprised to see the organized chaos that was Bar Ops during the second Saturday, pleasantly surprised the volunteers and the examinees by showing up every Saturday and Sunday thereafter and even getting a room at the hotel to ensure that he would be on the first bus to Taft. (I think more than anything also, the Dean ensured that this year's bar ops would be unforgettable because he not only stood through two masses, but even actively participated in one of them.)

The bar ops this year has led to many epiphanies for many people. This year's experience, for instance, has shown the Dean just how important it is to the examinees that they get the support of the law school and not only the perception of support; and so it will be that next year's effort will build on this and previous year's efforts. Already, plans are underway for more concerted efforts towards hitting the 100% that was the call for this year but is part of the Dean's program for his term. Even now, as September has just ended, preparations are in earnest for next year, with hopes that these will become institutional muscle memory in a law school that must see itself as not just existing in its many traditions, not just in its many memories but also in the many lives that it encounters.

I do not know all the names involved in Arianne's team and so I will not attempt to list them down for fear that I will forget one. I will just leave to Arianne the task of disseminating my regard and esteem for this year's bar ops leaders, core team and volunteers. Job well done, all!

Septembers, for lawyers and law students, will always bring memories of that rite of passage known as the Bar. Until next September then . . .

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Reality kicks in

"The Board of Regents, at its 1233rd meeting held today, approved the appointment of Prof. Theodore O. Te as Vice President for Legal Affairs effective 23 June 2008 to serve at the pleasure of the President."

It is now official.

So, I "officially" went to the Office of Legal Services (OLS), its current name until it can be changed to Office of the Vice President for Legal Affairs (OVPLA) at the third floor of U.P. Diliman's Quezon Hall yesterday for a send off for MVFL, now dean of the law school, and a welcome for me. Flying in from an overnight trip to Cebu with barely 3 hours of sleep, attending an execom meeting at the College, teaching my evidence class and driving over to OVPLA for the reception, I was in no condition tor respond as graciously as I wanted to the kind treatment they gave me. I'm not even sure my response was comprehensible, I hope I made sense and I hope they didn't mind too much even if I didn't.

On the 100th year of UP, I became one of its Vice Presidents--something I never thought would ever happen.

One thing kept running through my mind yesterday, for reality, this is really surreal.

Friday, June 06, 2008

it is finished... term as OLA director, that is.

I took over in December 2005 and officially turned the directorship over to my replacement earlier today. I had been in denial for some time that this day would come but I am no longer in denial--as the reality of moving out of room 105 is slowly sinking in, with each box of documents and personal stuff being transferred out of room 105 and to my faculty room in the second floor. No, I'm no longer in denial, but I'm officially in withdrawal.

I know I will miss being in this office especially the view from the small window behind my chair of the sunken garden where people playing football bring me back to a much simpler time; I know I will miss the interns who, semester after semester, enter OLA totally terrified and unaware of one end of the pleading from another and somehow emerge from the experience having learned a bit more than what they had bargained for; I know I will miss the four-member staff who, despite very little pay, choose to slug it out at OLA; I know I will miss correcting pleadings, scrawling my comments in green all over the freshly printed page; I know I will miss the case cons--at that nice long, newly varnished table outside the Director's office where little by little, the law becomes less and less a mystery to the interns.

I had a nice dinner (though my steak wasn't rare and there was no blood at all on the steak; it was still all good) with the last group of interns that I will officially handle, Team 4-SIP; though not all were able to join, it was still a nice way to end the summer and my term--just talking (not shop talk), laughing, and enjoying the company of people who had started the summer virtually strangers but had come out of the summer experience all the richer in friendship. Maraming salamat Migs, Bridget, Kate, Kai, Toff, Janette, Jess, Cathe (and Vince) and Tere for the great summer.

I will move to the center of UP soon, Quezon Hall, to a 3rd floor office which gives me a peculiar view of the auditorium behind Quezon Hall and where, if I walk along the corridor, I get to see Oble in a totally different light. Perhaps, that is where I am being led to and that is why I am being led here-- to see Quezon Hall peculiarly and to see Oble in a totally different light. I know that the God who has led me here will faithfully finish His work through me and I can only pray that I prove equal to the task and to the service.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my withdrawal--before reality sinks in.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"i don't know what" in french

Hadn't heard this in some time but was surprised to hear this the other day in casual conversation -- "je ne sais quoi" (it sounds phonetically to the un-french like "june se kwa"). I had to stop and ask the person I was talking to, "are you french?" to which he answered, "no, but I picked that up in a book I read."

When pressed if he knew what it meant, he said (correctly, although I don't know if he knew he was correct), "I don't know." Whether or not he knew it, that was the correct meaning of the phrase. I just smiled and didn't press the issue.

It means "I don't know what" or an undefinable not necessarily absent something; in a phrase that is more familiar, it's like an "x-factor." To use a trite example, "that person has a certain je ne sais quoi." (Sounds like something the writers of "pit and pab" , hosted by Tere, could pick up and work into their spiels, he he he)

It just struck me that we use so many words and cliches that we don't really know the meaning to but by oral tradition, we've become so used to them. Law students are no exception; they love to toss around huge and profound sounding terms that don't necessarily mean huge and profound things. Many times really, simple is just better.

In the meantime, could you, as a prefatory matter, indulge me by passing the certiorari to alleviate the conundrum that I am in?

things you can toss around in casual conversation to

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Life Lessons Learned, Grandly

(A send-off to UP Law Batch 2007-2008, taught in the grand manner, and hopefully to become great lawyers and even greater Filipinos) [NB. Supposed to come out in their Annual, Memorandum '08; first time, the OLA director's been asked to write something there.)

While I was still a student at Malcolm Hall, I heard someone say, “you don’t have to love the law to serve the people, but you do have to love the people. That got me thinking.

I did not love the law then—there was very little about it that I could love; it was (and still is) written in archaic language and embodied concepts that were, to my mind, not directly relevant and even, to some extent, greatly oppressive to the people I aspired to serve. I did love the people I aspired to serve—then as a paralegal and later as a lawyer. It came to a point that I was in despair that I was going to be a lawyer because I felt, then, that lawyering would be useless as the law I did not love had very little relevance in the lives of the people I did love.

Of course, I later did become a lawyer and a law professor—helping to train litigators and form advocates; struggling to instill character and inculcate values; trying mightily to witness to batch upon batch of wide-eyed and idealistic law students the scarred beauty of the law and the limited justice it could render; always, conscious of my role to help each batch passing through Malcolm’s portals understand that the law is but one of the many things a lawyer can use to truly help.

Each year, I look at the graduates and wonder, “did these streams rise higher than the source? This year, I take a look at you, Batch 2007-2008 and ask myself the same question- have these lives, these hearts, these souls, been transformed, changed, inspired and moved to become great lawyers and even greater persons?

I have seen many of you learn valuable life lessons in the year you were at OLA in the many instances of helplessness when you just had nothing to file or argue to help your clients, or nothing left; in the many instances when you held back tears as you empathized with the poverty of resources of the many lives who walk in through Malcolm’s Room 107; in the many instances when clenched fists and whoops of joy were the order of the day as unexpected surprises and wins came our way; in the many instances when you just shook your head in awe at the reality that the cases you simply read before were coming alive before your very eyes. Two semesters is not a lifetime but for all the lessons you have encountered, it might as well have been.

I have seen how, despite the many frustrations and the few joys, many of you marched on with great passion, heedless of the obstacles in your way, mindful only of the rare opportunity you had to show that while you may not love the law you are studying, you love the people you are serving.

All these gives me the confidence to boldly hope that, from your ranks, will come the next great nationalist, the next great professor or dean of law, the next great advocate, the next great litigators, the next great corporate or tax lawyers, or even the next great rebel or social gadfly or simply the quintessential UP lawyer, one who loves the people, if not the law.

Alan Dershowitz, in his Letters to a Young Lawyer, writes, “(i)f you don’t love the law, what should you love. . .? Love liberty. Love justice. Love the good that law can produce. Aspirations don’t disappoint, so long as you realize that the struggle for liberty, justice and anything else worth pursuing never stays won.”

As you temporarily step out of Malcolm Hall (because no one ever leaves Malcolm forever as little fragments of memory remain with us—be it a funny anecdote, a favorite nook in the library, a particularly detested/respected/admired professor), I congratulate you for allowing yourself to be moved by the experience of learning law and, more importantly, life in the years you spent in Malcolm Hall. May you continue loving the people whom the law seeks to serve, the very same people whose toil and tears you have shared and whose very lives have helped you to receive what many only dream of—lessons in life and law learned, grandly.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A blast from the past... for me, at least

"I read the news today, oh boy" (credit the Beatles for this line which I shamelessly rip off) and it spoke of the United States Supreme Court ruling 7-2 on the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution for the first time; the landmark ruling is Baze v. Rees, involving a capital case from Kentucky. (Read the link to an AI-US blog, which also posts a link to the decision.)

What struck me wasn't that the US Supreme Court ruled but that it was ruling for the very first time on the constitutionality of lethal injection.

This brought me back to March 2, 1998, when, on behalf of probably my most well-known client, I filed a petition for prohibition, injunction and/or TRO assailing the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 8177 designating lethal injection as the mode of execution in the country; the petition docketed as G.R. No. 132601 was given due course and, on October 12, 1998, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled, for the first time and apparently nine (9) years before the United States, that lethal injection was, to rip off Chief Justice Fernando's famous double negative, "not unconstitutional."

What also strikes me about Baze is the obvious absence of unanimity; there are seven (7) separate opinions, with only two (2) Justices joining the Chief Justice Roberts in his plurality (if you could even call it that) opinion, three (3) Justices concurring only in the result and with separate opinions, and with two (2) Justices (Ginsberg and Souter) dissenting.

Unlike the Philippines, which has, at least for the moment, prohibited capital punishment, it appears that the debate in the United States has just gotten a lot more interesting.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Intergenerational courtesy and hubris

More on the bar examinations and the throwing down of the gauntlet. (Read the post in my other blog)