Friday, March 31, 2006

Rising higher than the source

Ever since I started teaching law (in 96), this time of year has always been special.  It’s the time of the year that the Bar results come out.

For the civilians (read: non-lawyers) out there, this is going be totally difficult to understand because you just have to experience it to know what I am talking about.  The Bar, that is, and the seemingly interminable wait for the results.

When the results of my bar exams came out, I and a classmate (now my law partner) were outside the Supreme Court well into the early hours of the April morning;  we had commandeered a public pay phone and, with the help of classmates and batchmates inside the Court, were listing as many names of classmates and batchmates we could remember.  I remember whooping out loud when I finally heard that my name was on the list (because of my initials, my name would appear on the last few pages).  And suddenly, the four years of studying suddenly took on some meaning.

Now that I am teaching law, this time of year takes on special significance—it’s the time of the year that I remember those whom I’ve taught and are now officially members of the legal profession.  As I was scanning the list on the net earlier this morning, I started conjuring up faces and even seating positions in the various classes they took under me.  Funny (for me) and tragic (for them) moments of inane recitation came back unbidden—sometimes, I even remember what I said as riposte to particular gems of “how not to recite in law school.”

I remember all of these even as I hope that they will become better lawyers than I am for otherwise, all I did then was to mold mediocrity.  Unlike the saying, I believe that the stream must rise higher than its source for it is only then that there can be change, for the better.

The Bar is a rite of passage, of sorts.  But now the real test starts:  you join a profession that is far from perfect and far from noble, you will soon be among the ranks of men and women who, in their all too human moments , will succumb to the temptation to use the law for reasons other than to do justice and to transform society and its inhabitants. Your passage from onlooker and bystander to actor and participant in the stage of Philippine life and society is at hand.   The choice is always yours.

May you make a choice to make this far from perfect and far from noble profession one that will truly live up to its calling to do justice to every person and to transform society.

Until then, congratulations Batch 2005!  See you in court!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Short memories

What we are seeing now is the clearest sign that in any upheaval, to the victor go the spoils.

When Gloria launched her own coup d’etat against Erap in 2001, she had her own left and right “tactical alliance”—this much is already part of history.  Dinky Soliman, the first member of her cabinet to be announced, was most probably already thinking up and doing the many gimmicks she is doing now, as part of the so-called “civil society.”  When her coup d’etat succeeded, the criminals took over government.

In law, there is a theory of non-liability that is premised on the existence of a crime but no criminal;  it is called an exempting circumstance.  In a coup d’etat, it appears that success is an exempting circumstance;  for certainly, no one will prosecute the successful coup stagers as they would have taken over the government already.  There is a crime but no criminal—well, at least none that can be prosecuted, during their tenure.

Gloria should remember her history and she should stop being so hypocritical, if this is not a genetic trait on her part (if it is, then she should try very hard to not be so hypocritical).  The left and right tactical alliance she is decrying now is taken from her own playbook.

Those who do not remember the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.  


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Good man gone

His “resignation” letter gave the end date as “April 1, 2006 or until my replacement is appointed, whichever is earlier.”  Thus ended the public life of Solicitor General Alfredo Benipayo, Tribune of the People.

He is a good man in a rotten government; a good lawyer in a lawless reign.  

Thrust into the thankless defense of an indefensible government and an illegitimate ruler, this good man became the public face of a government that deserved to be publicly humiliated.  Before his peers in a Court he had served long and faithfully, the Tribune of the People simply could not provide the reasons for something that was totally beyond reason.  And when that public humiliation did come—within the halls of the Court and in the bar of public opinion—it was all he could do to put a brave smile on his face and pretend that nothing was wrong.

Yet, it is in the character of the man who would not simply allow that brave smile and feeble pretense to be his legacy.

That he “resigned” yesterday, pending the submission of a Memorandum that would rationalize the dictator’s rule, betrayed the turmoil behind that brave smile.  That an “equal” in the Secretary of Justice (I use this loosely in relation to the current Secretary of Justice because he is far from being Benipayo’s equal--in erudition, in integrity, in character) would “accept” or even “demand” his resignation is the unkindest cut of all.

Someday, perhaps, when there is no longer a reason for that  brave smile and the feeble pretense, Benipayo may tell us the reasons why he would abandon the dictator at the most crucial point in its legal battle for legitimacy.  As he belts Sinatra and Bennett, one day, Benipayo may tell us what everyone now “knows”—that he was fired because he could not defend the indefensible and could not legitimize the illegitimate.  

In the meantime, the Tribune of the People is gone;  long may he live!  

Friday, March 03, 2006

Going beyond mootness

Now that the dictator’s decree is lifted, is it over?  Not by a long shot.

Things are not back to normal—media is still chilled, despite their denials;  censorship by the police will still continue; warrantless arrests and the threat thereof will still continue;  E.O. 464 is still in effect; CPR is still in force.

The Filipino people have said, “Never Again!”  It’s time the Supreme Court says it too.

I urge the Supreme Court not to hide behind the seeming mootness of the petitions challenging 1017 and to decide them on the merits.  Do not dismiss them simply because they are moot—in that way, you will legitimize a dictator.  Instead, use the power of the pen—be once again the “conscience of government”—and say to the dictator and anyone else who would follow after her:  “never again.”

Certainly, the Supreme Court cannot—and must not--turn a blind eye on the assault on truth, the attack on press freedom.  So, hide not behind mootness, rule instead that Proclamation 1017 and General Order No. 5 are patently unconstitutional.  In Salonga v. Cruz Pano and Evelio Javier v. COMELEC, the Supreme Court ruled despite mootness.  

So I say to the Supreme Court:  decide in favor of democracy, not dictatorship.  Say in one voice, with the people, “never again!”  Do not hold your peace, speak out now.