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Baser instincts

“The best time to be a law student.” This declaration was a regular part of the freshman orientation spiel in my past life as a law school dean. I would congratulate every batch during my tenure (2006-2015) on the auspicious timing of their law school journey. The decade saw an unprecedented burst of legislative productivity, dizzying judicial makeovers, and majestic constitutional battles on issues of transcendental importance. These phenomena challenged convention and provoked thought. They inspired students to remove the blinders of antiquated law programs designed to limit their vision to a finish line known as the bar exams.

Rules of conduct, dress codes, recitation, case digests, spot quizzes, long quizzes, midterm exams, final exams, group work, legal thesis, apprenticeship, legal aid, strict retention policies and my withering glare were the only nightmares my students faced for a shot at the Bar. These challenges served as shared experiences that fostered batch identities and cemented unbreakable bonds of brotherhood or sisterhood to accompany them throughout their careers.

It was a charmed life, in retrospect, when you consider the jolting reminder that contemporaries in other law schools had to endure harsher ordeals for their dreams. Their list of trials included: surrendering themselves to the hands of total strangers and being rewarded for that trust with physical and mental torture and assaults on their human dignity.

The 1995 Anti-Hazing Law, R.A. 8049, was intended as a deterrent to our baser instincts. After Congress passed this response to the string of hazing deaths in the early 1990s, no one else was supposed to perish in initiation rites. Had the law’s protections been strictly followed: prior notice to the school; advance listing of neophytes; pledges against the use of violence; attendance of 2 school representatives, it is arguable that the reported hazing deaths (26 since the law was passed) and the countless injuries that flowed from the culture of impunity of initiation rites could have been avoided.

Epiphany. The House has acted to immediately restore the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) budget in the proposed 2018 General Appropriations Act. They approved up to P508 million of the P623.38 million originally proposed by the President. They were intent on doing this, anyway. This decision restores sanity to the national discussion on the importance of vigilance in the defense of human rights.

Chairman Chito Gascon should take notice of the grievances of the Congressmen. These are legitimate complaints. We refer not to the failure to investigate violations committed by private individuals. Rather, it is the notorious lapses in addressing protests filed against members of the Chairman’s own political party. The Hacienda Luisita dispersal of workers are top of mind but they are by no means isolated. In several provinces, the CHR would betray its noble mandate and go soft on executives actually accused of violations if with the correct party connections.

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The CHR budget was restored not because of him but despite him. We were bewildered by his hosannahs inexplicably thanking the 32 Congressmen who voted NO “for believing in him.” Save for those NO votes from some (not all) Liberal Party Congressmen, I don’t think any voted against the budget slash out of an abiding admiration for the Chairman’s independence. In fact, several have taken pains to point out their agreement with their colleagues’ observations about the Chairman.

Be bad to be good. Congressman Rodolfo Farinas has to be the most powerful House Majority Leader in recent history. We have all seen how he can bend Congress to his will. This is largely due to the esteem and high regard in which he is held by our Congressmen. A major reason for this deference is his own deep respect for the institution and his passion for the job.

Manong Rudy has made it his crusade to reform the tarnished image of the House of Representatives. The equal parts school master and charm meister got a unanimous consent for a rule to demolish his first target: the notorious lack of quorum. Since he took over, session hall doors now close at 4 p.m., on schedule. Those not inside by that time are considered absent. Quickly, our incorrigible Congressmen lost their tardy habits. He cracks this same obsessive whip on Committee attendance. You miss a hearing? You’ll hear about it from Majo. Under his wing, the Chamber has become more productive. Legislative output (whether or not agreeable) has increased.

Thinking aloud, he wondered if his Congressmen could be spared speeding citations if they were on the way to attend session. We get the context of this latest item on his wish list. But if he truly believes that the interest of having Congressmen attend sessions on time converts them into a class unto themselves, why not file the necessary bill to trigger the debate – on the floor of Congress and ultimately in the Supreme Court? Are the Congressmen entitled to this special treatment without violating the equal protection guarantee?

Game of Thrones. Atty. Danilo Lardizabal Concepcion was formally invested with office last Wednesday as the 21st resident of the University of the Philippines (UP). With high officials of the great departments of government in attendance, together with presidents of state, local and private universities, the man they call “DannyCon” delivered a truly inspiring investiture address. With just enough balance of sangfroid and chutzpah, he detailed for posterity his ambitious plans to further elevate the already exalted place of his alma mater among Asia’s top universities. We know this man to be a true scholar, a born leader and an elder statesman with the common touch. It is only a matter of time before he realizes his strategic plans and moves on to loftier challenges for the country’s premiere state university.

Passages. The entire nation is wounded by the senseless loss of Horacio Castillo, III. We earnestly hope that the truth will come out, justice prevail and that his memory be kept alive to lend meaning to the search for solutions to prevent similar tragedies. Our deep sympathies to his family.

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