Message to the Centennial Graduating Batch of the UP College of Law
April 18, 2011
Now it is your turn.
Like ninety seven (97) other classes in our one hundred years of existence, you are now the celebrants in a ritual that marks your rite of passage. Henceforth you carry the academic title Juris Doctor and the burden of being an alumnus of the College of Law of the University of the Philippines. You are now the incarnation of all the youthful hopes and aspirations of all of those who had started in the legal profession. Like many, you will look back to these rituals to measure what it is that you have achieved or simply to remind yourselves of what you cherish as your values. In this noble profession, remember that our currency is our honor and excellence, our leadership and service and our abiding passion to do justice.
While you may have many things in common with earlier classes, you too stand unique among all those that graduated from the UP College of Law.
Yours is a generation that was introduced to law in a different medium.
I graduated in 1987 getting introduced to the PC-XT which we used as a substitute to the typewriter. Many of those before me (like the faculty behind me) only knew of the typewriter, the onioned skin paper and the carbon copy.
Your generation can work on the many apps in an iPad. Your 3g or wifi enabled smartphones and lithium batteries allow you to breach the physical limitations of an AC plugged computer terminal. You reach out to friends in facebook, converse with communities through twitter and initially expand knowledge with wikipedia and other similar tools on the internet. You engage not only with your friends who you can have coffee with, but virtual friends of any culture or nationality. (At times, you have friends who are not really your friends.)
Very few of you may have seen a personal letter delivered through post office services with its emotions mellowed by the natural delays as its paper is transferred from one human hand to another. (And the registered mail you received as an OLA intern does not count either.) To you, email is the standard. This is where you send messages, pictures, videos, links to pages in the internet. This is where you could engage while being comfortably anonymous. This digital world truly creates more difficult layers in our present conception of what is personal.
All of you have the capability to shape the opinions of your communities seated behind a desk broadcasting through your personal blogs. Your generation lives in an age where access to tremendous information and opinion is possible. Ironically, without effort on your part, too much information can freeze you into inaction; too much opinion can lead to your desentization.
But this is not all.
The problems that we will confront in the next few years has also expanded exponentially. For instance in such vital commodity as water an author has warned:
“In the last four decades of the twentieth century, the amount of freshwater available for each human being worldwide shrank by almost two thirds. It is expected to be halved again by 2025”.
Joachim von Braun and his colleagues at the International Food Policy Research Institute predicts:
“...insufficient attention to water-related investments and policies could produce a water crises that would in turn lead to food system stress, given competing demands on scarce water. With increased water stress, relative crop yields decline, representing an annual loss in crop yields forgone...In such a water crises scenario, cereal production declines by ten percent, a loss equivalent to the entire Indian cereal crop. These declines would cause rice prices to rise by 40 percent, wheat prices by 80 percent, and maize prices by 120 percent by the year 2025. Price increases of this magnitude will dampen demand, contract trade, and hit poor people the hardest, especially the one billion people who live in urban slums and the many millions of rural poor people who are net purchasers.”
By the way, in case you feel disconnected, in 2025, many of you will only be nearing your forties. If our current demographics are correct, you may only be starting a family at that time. Then your priorities will change.
Food prices are increasing and with it the specter of hunger and shortage. With hunger and shortages come wars that destabilize countries and regions. With war and famine come refugees that alter the demographics of entire continents. The increase in food prices may be the result of population increases, changes in trade patterns, too much biofuel production, urbanization, dietary changes, climate change, regional droughts, speculation on commodity prices, increase in the price of oil.
The changing character of what and how we eat which has direct impact on our collective health. It is now cheaper to buy processed hamburger with a pack of cigarettes than the lowly but healthier vegetables in our market. In many rural areas that I have visited in our country, carbonated soft drinks is often cheaper and more ubiquitous than clean bottled mineral water.
Oil is slowly becoming a scarce commodity. Experts suspect that we have surpassed peak oil. It is becoming more expensive to find new and abundant sources of this product. Thus oil prices have become more vulnerable, more volatile. In your last year in the College of Law, the world became witness to another environmental disaster caused by an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico (evidence that humanity is now trying to recover oil from the most inaccessible places). Political restiveness mark the social landscape in countries that produce much of the world’s oil.
If you have not noticed, the price of unleaded gas is now Php 56 pesos. In Baler Quezon and in Maguindanao, both of which I visited just days ago, some gasoline stations were selling a liter of unleaded gas at a little more than 60 pesos. If you have time, I invite you to check on the latest increases in your electric utility billing. Better still, revisit the statistics and the progress for alternative fuel sources. It is an unjust world where there is hunger amid plenty; affluence with insecurity. It is an unjust world where our social and cultural infrastructure cannot harness human creativity to pull us from the brink of total extinction
The challenge that we--as a profession--have to confront is whether our legal infrastructure can accommodate solutions rather than retard them. More specifically, do we as a law school reinforce, recreate, and reproduce thinking of laws that exacerbate these problems? In this Republic, are we training more law students--future leaders--so that our law schools can have better statistics licensure examination that may have very little to do with what legal practice requires today? Or are we able to inculcate a healthy irreverence to legal artifact and canonical thought to nurture the critical abilities of our students so that they can immediately contribute to rethinking the frames and paradigms that have brought our societies hunger amid plenty, affluence with insecurity? Do we--as lawyers produced by this national legal institution--know the law so well that we are able to actually find ways to assist in its subtle or radical transformation?
Do we really have the courage to lead?
I know that this is a tall order. After all, you have just graduated. But I do believe that you have encountered many of the values that will make you part of the solution. Let me briefly rehearse some of them again.
You can only see the bigger and more fundamental problem if you know how to look for it. Only then, will you start to see the lasting solutions. To do this, you have to gain full knowledge and understanding of what is before you but resist the comfortable inertia that the status quo offers. Even in your comfort, you have to continue to ask the more difficult questions. You could say that the danger to any UP law graduate is that in their successes they forget to be relevant.
For example, lawyers that practice proficiently in the commercial field have skills that do not only come from experience, but also from knowledge and understanding. The status quo offers them more clients who can occupy their time. They will become affluent and sought after. But many of UP law alumni in this field, for instance those in your faculty, go beyond the comfortable inertia that their discipline offers. They ask deeper questions. They ask about government and governance. Far more than the interests of their clients, they interrogate with our public’s interest in mind. Some even forsake practice and join public service. It is the spirit of UP that haunts them.
By the way, the inertia can also happen in other unlikely fields.
Those who practice proficiently with public interest law do so initially with passion tempered by the knowledge and skills required to work their disciplines. The farmer’s lawyer is familiar with land and agrarian laws. The lawyer with an abiding passion for the environment knows the intricacies of environmental law. But the comfortable inertia sets in when they become accustomed to be at the margins. It is easy to be complacently there when the status quo requests that they perform the romantic but useless paradigm of being the voice in the wilderness. But UP law alumni bucks these trends. They ask the more difficult question of how their concerns can become mainstream. In their effort to do so, they ask their public interest organizations to do more, or even perhaps join more powerful corporations or even enter government themselves. It is also the spirit of UP law that also haunts them.
More important than the stereotypical idea of service is the ability to truly be of service led by our desire to continue to ask the hard questions. To continue to ask the hard questions is to remain critical. Being critical is a mark of the true UP Law Alumni.
Asking the hard questions will lead you to another important quality of a UP law alumni: courage.
In the last year, your faculty has unwittingly shown you what this means. And it has been truly an honor to be its Dean these past three years.
The powerful status quo does not fear all dissent; it only fears the dissent that has the capability to undermine them. This is the dissent that rings true and is reasonable.
No one can stop the consequences of truthful speech or that of a good opinion. Thus, the status quo can only hope to spin it and strike fear on those who utter it or seek to speak some more. Shaming has always been a weapon of those who wield power. It conveniently shifts the public’s attention from the message to the speaker. It is used in the hope that by doing so, the speaker will be put in his place. Rather than speak the truth the speaker is invited to remain in an ignominious dark corner imprisoned by the unreasonable assumption that only those who are inhumanly perfect have the right to comment on the actions of the public status quo.
Courage requires that you take personal risks. Life and law is the same in this regard: it is the risks you take reveal the fighting faiths that you truly believe. A life without risk is not what you signed up for when you entered the portals of the UP College of Law. Learn to deserve to take the risks that life will offer you.
I speak for the faculty when I say that we are proud of what you have become. Continue to live a life truly worth living. Remain critical, ask the difficult questions, find your voice, find your courage, believe in your fighting faiths, resist the comforts of inertia. Stand proud to be an alumnus of the UP College of Law. Celebrate honor and excellence. Value leadership and service. Ever be passionate in your quest for justice.
Thank you and, again, congratulations.