September 24, 2007

Lives resume, never to be the same again

As the beating of the snare drums dies down, and the last barricade removed, Taft becomes normal again, signalling the end of the Bar Examinations of 2007.

Far from going back to normal, lives are resumed but are changed--never more to be the same again.

4 years of law school does not prepare you for the 5 months of review and the one month of last-minute preparation to take the 8 exams spread across 4 Sundays.

4 years of law school does not prepare you for the terrible bouts of confusion, despair, depression, anxiety, fatigue, illness, and surrender that dances across one's emotional spectrum every day.

4 years of law school also does not prepare you for the joy of newly-discovered relationships with others in the same journey; of bonds formed and forged forever in the crucible of shared anxieties, shared triumphs, shared joys and shared decisions; of unlikely friendships created out of perhaps a mutual need, truly serendipitous moments or perhaps even divine intervention.

4 years of law school will never prepare you for the epiphany that there is more to life than law school but that a life lived in the pursuit of the law may, after all, be one of life's nobler callings.

After 4 years of law school 5 months of review and 4 Sundays, lives resume but are never the same again.

To the U.P. bar examinees of 2007: may you truly live changed lives--seeking always for what is best in this profession that is often a picture of what is worst, striving always for the justice that is desired by many yet is elusive to they who need it most; speaking always the truth that sets people free but is often masked and hidden by the lies that chain and bind; standing always for freedom that is the greatest gift yet is often never received.

To the U.P. Bar examinees of 2007
: many of you have said, "we hope to make you proud." You honor me greatly by that, as I do not deserve that privilege. My answer to you has always been--and remains still--"you already have."

September 15, 2007

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness. . ." (Matthew 3:3)

Jovito R. Salonga, the Best President we never had, Senate President, Senator, Patriot, Nationalist, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Political Detainee, War Veteran, U.P. Lawyer and Bar Topnotcher--moral force, man of God and Sigma Rhoan no more.

The newspapers today speak of a real man standing for his principles and standing by his word, even when it is unpopular, even when it goes against the grain, even when it is not expedient, for so long as it is the right thing to do: Jovito Salonga resigns from Sigma Rhoa "effective immediately."

I have had the happy honor of not only meeting the man personally many times over but to have worked with and for him. I first met him when he called me over the phone and introduced himself as "Professor Te, si Salonga ito." He asked to meet with me at his home in Valle Verde and there he broached to me the possibility of forming a student monitoring team to look into cases of delay in the courts as well as to be a watchdog for judicial appointments--this was to become Bantay Katarungan. I gave my two cents worth and he listened; he later offered me a job with Bantay Katarungan to be the coordinator; I was flattered no end but had to decline it because my schedule at that time would not allow it--it was still during the reign of the death penalty and my docket was, literally, clogged. I was greatly honored to even be considered and I told him that. And his answer was, "Professor, just continue doing what you are doing; you are doing good work." To this day, he calls me "Professor" or "Attorney", and to this day, it is impossible not to feel greatly honored that this man, Jovito Salonga, would address you with two titles that he, himself, has distinguished and brought great honor to.

Since that time, I have met him many times; I have represented him in two cases before the Supreme Court and have had the benefit of his legal acumen in the formulation of arguments and even the acerbic and dry wit that is rarely seen. Unforgettable for me is his response when we (Senator Bobby Tanada and I) were offering him the "first chair" as it were in arguing before the Supreme Court our petition to declare the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) unconstitutional; he said, with a hint of a smile, "huwag na ako, at baka masigawan ko pa ang Korte. . . (pause). . .alam mo naman ako'y bingi na."

Ka Jovy, as I call him, is a man who knows the right thing to do at the right time. His stand on many things is well-known. Yet, many people were surprised to hear him speak out on the Cris Mendez/Sigma Rho issue; not a few dismissed his "promise" that he would resign if Sigma Rho would be shown to have been involved in Mendez's death. His resignation from Sigma Rho is not surprising, it is simply Salonga.

Today, Jovito R. Salonga has once again shown what it truly means to have honor, to have courage, to have integrity. May he, like John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3) , be a voice crying out to proclaim the good news that is to come but may he, unlike John, not be simply the "voice of one crying in the wilderness" but the first voice in a cacophony and chorus that is to come.

September 13, 2007

A Primer (of sorts) on The Hazing Law (RA 8049)

For a more constructive debate and a clearer idea of what the Hazing Law can do or cannot do --

Q. How is hazing defined?

A. As used in the law, hazing is an initiation rite or practice used as a prerequisite for admission into membership in a fraternity, sorority, or organization. (sec. 1)

Q. How is it done?
A. Under RA 8049, the essence of hazing is "placing the recruit, neophyte, or applicant in some emarrassing or humiliating situations such as forcing him(her) to do menial, silly, foolish and similar tasks or activities or otherwise subjecting him to physical or psychological suffering or injury." (sec. 1) [My observation: the only difference apparently between hazing as defined and recitation in the UP Law School is that the law student is already in the college of law but the neophyte is still aspiring to enter.]

Q. Who are covered by the hazing law?
A. Any club, or the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, Philippine Military Academy, or officer and cadet corps of the Citizen's Military Training or Citizen's Army Training except those "physical, mental and psychological testing and training procedure and practices to determine and ehance the physical and mental and psychological fitness of prospective regular members" of the AFP, PNP as approved by concerned government officials. (sec. 1)

Q. When is hazing allowed?
A. It is allowed only if there is a prior written notice to the scholl authorities or head of organization seven (7) days before the initiation; the notice shall indicate the period of the initiation which shall not exceed three (3) days, shall include the names of those to be subjected to the activities and shall "contain an undertaking that no physical violence be employed by anybody during such initiation rites."(sec. 2) [My observation: Yeah, right.] Additionally, under section 3, the head of the school or organization or their representative must assign at least two (2) representatives of the school or organization to be present. It is the duty of such representative to see to it that no physical harm of any kind shall be inflicted upon a recruit, neophyte or applicant. (My observation and query: now who was the representative during the hazing of Cris Mendez? Your guess. . . should be kept to yourself unless you want to be sued for libel. )

Q. What are the legal consequences of hazing? Who are liable for hazing?
A. It depends on what happens to the neophyte or applicant.

a) If he/she is physically injured or dies as a result of hazing (whether authorized or otherwise), the officers and members of the fraternity, sorority or organization who actually participated in the infliction of physical harm shall be liable as principals and shall suffer a range of penalties raning from prision correccional (six months and one day to six years) to reclusion perpetua (20 years and 1 day to 40 years), depending on the extent and nature of injuries inflicted (if death results, the penalty is automatically reclusion perpetua). The maximum of the penalty, in each case, will be imposed if: (a) the recruitment is attended by force, intimidation, violence or deceit; (b) the person who decides to quit is prevented from doing so; (c) the person, after being hazed, is prevented from reporting the incident to parents, police or other authorities; (d) the hazing is committed outside the school or institution; (e) the victim is below 12 years old at the time of hazing.

b) The owner of the place where the hazing is done is liable as an accomplice when he actually knew that hazing would be conducted but failed to prevent the same; if the hazing is held in the home of any of the officers or members, the parents are liable as principals when they have actual knowledge of the hazing and failed to prevent it.

c) The school authorities including faculty members who consent to the hazing or who have actual knowledge thereof, but failed to prevent the same are liable as accomplices.

d) The officers, former officers, alumni who actually planned the hazing although not present when the acts are committed are liable as principals. Officers or members who knowingly cooperate by inducing the victim to be present are liable as principals. The adviser who is present when the acts are committed and failed to take action is liable as principal.

e) The president, manager, director or other officer of a corporation engaged in hazing as a requirement for employment.

Q. What is the liability of a person who is merely present?
A. The presence of any person during a hazing is prima facie evidence of participation as a principal unless he prevented the hazing.

Q. Can the mitigating circumstance of "no intention to commit so grave a wrong" or praeter intentionem be allowed?
A. No, under sec. 4, this mitigating circumstance is expressly disallowed.

September 11, 2007

Frat Free

Someone asked me why I hate frats and fratmen so much? He speculated quite baldly that I may have been a quitter. Over my loud guffaws, I told him that I was never a neophyte and never intended to join a fraternity as I did not need it (that was way back in law school and events after law school have borne out that I am doing fine without frats, thank you very much).

I once asked a fratman who treated me out to lunch and was quite obviously recruiting me to just answer me one question to MY satisfaction and, if he did, I would join his frat--"my father never laid a hand on me my whole life, why should I allow you, perfect strangers, to hit me?" He had no answer and I enjoyed a sumptuous free lunch, frat free.

I don't hate fraternities nor frat men. I do hate the culture of omerta that they perpetuate, the violence and the hypocritical preening that they indulge in to recruit their next neophytes.

I have many friends from the frats; I look up to many people who are frat men; several of my very good friends for life are frat men.

I have always believed in "love the sinner, hate the sin." And that applies here squarely.

When I condemn frat violence and the culture of impunity that it brings about, I do it not because I want to abolish fraternities (I don't believe in this and I don't agree with Miriam; abolishing frats will only drive them underground and then they would really be out of reach and out of control) but because I want the frat men who killed men like Cris Mendez to be acountable for their actions. That's all.

I have always believed in accountability and responsibility. And, in the end, for fraternities who preach integrity, honor and brotherhood, shouldn't these be essential?

Do I wish that we were frat free? Yes. But that particular Genie is now out of the bottle and you can't put him back in. We don't have to tolerate the unlawful things they do though.

To those who are afraid of the fraternities, especially my students in law school, I say to you-- take courage, stand your ground and speak your mind. There is a freedom wall in the law school about this--write, express yourself, speak your mind. Do not be afraid.

September 10, 2007

The blood of brothers

I have written on this before and it gives no pleasure to write again on this. But another son, brother, person, human being has been killed by a fraternity: Chris Mendez by Sigma Rho. Never mind that there is no official acknowledgement by Sigma Rho; its silence on this matter speaks more eloquently than any official confession.

I have been reading many of my students' blogs on this latest episode of fraternity violence, this time inflicted on one it would call their own, and almost all have asked the question, "why?" There is no answer there that can be found other than to say that it is perhaps a mindless adherence to an outdated tradition of compelling loyalty by means of blood-letting and blood sharing.

Yet, we live in times that we would consider civilized, how then explain the almost morbid fascination of fraternities (and I generalize here to include ALL Fraternities; it is their burden to prove me wrong) with exacting loyalty and commitment by means of physical violence?

I am not a frat man and I am not a barbarian, they are the barbarians, for how else explain the ritualistic blood-letting that must accompany every entry into these greek-lettered societies?

I have never considered physical violence to be a measure of anything other than the shallowness of a person's capacity to reason and the absence of a person's capacity to inspire. Commitment and true brotherhood may be exacted by reason and inspiration, blind loyalty by beatings. That is the difference between humans and horses; you can inspire a person to follow you into the gates of hell but you will have to beat that into a horse.

Yet, these fraternities pride themselves to be the best that there is to offer; Sigma Rho, in its posters extolling alumni (some of whom have publicly distanced themselves from the violence but without resigning), call themselves "gentlemen warriors." If you truly are the best, gentlemen, you do not need to beat commitment into your neophytes; if the gospel you preach is truly the good news, then the ultimate act of hate has no place in it.

I am not a frat man but I am part of a brotherhood--a brotherhood that preaches the good news that, yes, everyone is entitled to respect. My brothers are committed to me and I, to them, not because we were beaten up but because we share the same principles, the same way of living, the same faith and the same experience of love and being loved. So, even if I am not a frat man, I do know of whence I speak when I speak of being a brother to another.

In Genesis 4:9, ". . .the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel, your brother?' He said, 'I do not know, am I my brother's keeper?'"

Cris Mendez was hazed so that he could be a brother; ultimately, his blood was spilled by those who would call him, yet not keep him, as brother. The greater tragedy is not that he was killed in the name of brotherhood, but that the brotherhood to which he aspired would even wash his blood off their hands by simply asking, "am I (Cris's) keeper?"

To those who killed Cris Mendez, let me say this:

Yes, you are your brother's keeper and his blood is on your hands--not only by you who lifted your hand against him to beat him, to maul him, to spill his blood, but also by you who would stand mute and lift no voice of condemnation for those among your brothers who killed Cris.

Yes, you are your brother's keeper and, if you would cherish his memory, you would not stand mute in the face of the grief and bereavement of his family and his friends but rather break your silence to let the truth out.

Yes, you are your brother's keeper for, ultimately, as Donne puts it "any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."

Ang mamatay nang dahil sa 'yo, ang pinatay nang dahil sa wala

Note to the faint of heart: I am angry; no, I am enraged. The words that will follow are angry words. If you are looking for nice, peaceful and sweet-sounding words, skip this one. But if you are as enraged as I am, read on and participate.

Note to those who will take the other side: I welcome constructive debate from people who are willing to put their names where their thoughts are. For masked thugs trolling the blogs of those who oppose you, you have no place in this debate. Go, make yourself scarce; if possible, for all time.

Ang mamatay nang dahil sa 'yo
(to die for you) -- the last line from the Lupang Hinirang, our national anthem, speaks of the nobility of a death that is achieved for a purpose bigger than one's self and one's life. It is--or should be--the ultimate goal of any person who loves--be it country, principle, faith, fellowmen or God.

Certainly not for a fraternity. And most certainly, not for a fraternity that holds itself out to be gentlemen warriors but does not have the integrity to own up to killing one of they would claim as their own nor the courage to name the ones responsible.

Ang pinatay nang dahil sa wala (to be killed for nothing) best describes Cris Mendez and other nameless, faceless victims of this system of barbarism that is the hallmark of fraternity initiations. Indeed, it is as if Cris Mendez's death was for nothing as even the very fraternity he aspired to join would not even come forward to offer a mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

There is a rule in Evidence that speaks of Character--which is who or what you are, when no one is looking. It is very easy to look noble when you are being watched; it is very easy to look dignified when you are on a stage. But when you can exercise that nobility and possess that dignity even when no one's watching, that is character.

To those who killed Cris Mendez, no one was watching as you beat him to a pulp; no one was watching as you reduced a life to nothing but a carcass; no one was watching when you inflicted blow upon blow in the name of a "brotherhood" that deserves no glory other than that which is associated with that other organization that practices omerta.

There is no nobility in beating up someone who cannot fight back, there is only cowardice. A warrior with honor never raises his fist or his sword against a defenseless foe, only a thug does. Sigma Rhoan Juan Ponce Enrile described you best: not gentlemen warriors but-a bunch of "thugs" with no character, with no honor, and as the Romulans would say, with no name.

Until the day when you surrender those among you who killed Cris Mendez, until the day when your current leaders have the honor, the character, the courage and, if you will pardon the sexist term, the balls to fall on your sword and come forward to be held accountable, you do not exist, in my contemplation.

And for those in law school, you had better pray that you never enroll in any of my classes, ever--and that includes the OLA program, which is mandatory for a UP degree--because I cannot give a grade to someone who does not exist.

And for the alumni of this collection of thugs that killed Cris Mendez, stop basking in romanticized glory and do the right thing--withdraw ALL support from these thugs and let the law take its course.