(Speech delivered during 2016 Association of Law Students of the Philippines National Convention held at Arellano University.)
Thank you for the courteous introduction. I would like to insist, however, that you call me without title or simply Ronel, as I am not an attorney, at least not yet. I have to take my oath and sign in the roll of attorneys, scheduled on June 16 and June 22, respectively.
That being said, what I can share with you is not about the legal profession, which I have yet to become a member of, but about law school and bar examinations. I will no longer share with you the specifics of how to study. We have so many materials on that, which are readily accessible in the internet. What I will share with you, then, are my guiding principles – which I call guideposts – in studying during law school and preparing for the bar examinations.
Speaking of law school, may I honestly ask who among you, prior to the release of the results of the 2015 Bar Examinations last May 3, have heard of “Bulacan State University College of Law”? Sigh. YES, we exist. In fact, we have been existing since 2002. Incidentally, year 2015 marked the 10th time that BSU participated in the bar examinations, and, fortunately, I, representing my school, ranked 10th among the top notchers. Stroke of luck? Maybe.
If, however, there is an important thing that I wish to remind you, it is that passing the bar examinations is not, and cannot be, based on luck. This is my first guidepost for you: Luck has no place in the study of law. Luck has no place in the study of law. Sure, we get lucky for not being called in the recit when we did not study well. Sure, we get lucky when our terror professor passed us despite the fact that we got failing grades during exams. Luck is not a reliable ally, but when it aids us, it does so unexpectedly. The bar examination, unfortunately, is different. The odds are not in our favour. We have to make our own odds. To do this, we must accept the fact that preparing for the bar begins on the very first day of law school. It entails hard work from first year to fourth year of law school. Nobody can do it for you. It will be you. It has to be you.
During the first week of my first year in law school, I remember, our section 1A had about 30 students. Week after week, the number of students dwindled to below 20. Due to demanding toil, many of my working classmates were contemplating on quitting law school, and asking us, those remaining steadfast in our resolution to continue the study of law, if they should continue law as well. At first, I convinced them they can survive law school. “You can do it. Don’t give up.” Few more weeks, when asked for advice, I told them differently, to quit law school, if that is what they want. “If you really find it hard, or if you prioritize your work over law school, then quit.” When asked what made me change my heart, I told them I realized something: “I cannot read cases for you. I cannot recite the provisions of law for you. I cannot answer the examinations for you. I cannot even take the bar for you. It will all be you. And, if you want to continue studying law, you must continue wholeheartedly or not at all. The study of law is not to be pursued with reservations. Study or not. There is no in-between.” We may have heard already, what in 1829, US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story stated: “The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage.”
Complementing my first guidepost is my second one: Shortcuts, like luck, and the study of law do not go well together. Shortcuts, like luck, and the study of law do not go well together. In our instant age – instant coffee, instant noodles – the temptation to do law school things instantly as well is strong – downloading case digests instead of digesting them ourselves, reading reviewers instead of books and annotations. Guilty? There is a good reason why our law curriculum is designed for four years. The study of law cannot be rushed. We cannot take the shortcut and hope to know the law. We have to read diligently, passionately, each provision of law, whether those be the 2270 articles of the New Civil Code or the 198 sections of the Negotiable Instruments Law. We have to read the cases, no matter how long, whether those be the case of Estrada vs Escritor (including the 2006 resolution), or the foundling case Poe-Llamanzares vs COMELEC (including the thousand-page dissenting and concurring opinions!) I have read the case but, nah, I have not read the opinions, but I will.
Point is, we cannot procrastinate the study of law. We cannot shorten it up. We cannot read digested cases and hope to appreciate the beautiful ratio of the law, and be confident to recite it. We cannot study overnight and hope to know the law, and be ready for the midterms, like some of you here might be doing. We cannot solely rely on reviewers and expect to understand the exceptions to the exceptions to the exceptions of the law, and pray to pass the bar examinations. As law students, let us do our part diligently. We have only three important things to do: study, study, and study.
True enough, notwithstanding our no-procrastination long tedious preparations, we may still fail. We fail to answer recitations. We fail quizzes and examinations. We fail the subject. It appears then that the study of law involves failing. We may not avoid failures; but surely we can rise from them. Indeed, it is the third guidepost I would like to share with you: If you fall, rise. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” so says Confucius.
You know, I was not an honor student during my undergraduate years. I finished BA Psychology. I did not pass the UP Law Aptitude Exam. During my first year, I got 65 and 64 in my Criminal Law 1 midterm and final examinations, respectively. During my second year, I had my share of bad recitation days, I remember I cannot recite Joeb Aliviado vs Procter and Gamble case in Labor Law 1. During my third year, I got 58 in midterm examinations in Alternative Dispute Resolution class, the lowest grade I ever obtained in law school exam (at least to my knowledge). During fourth year, I failed quizzes in Mercantile Law Review. In general, I failed as a law student in relation to my professors, because every time there was class, I fervently prayed to God that something might happen that will prevent my professors from coming to class. Yes, I know I failed, only if you consider praying that professors do not come to class as failure. Or are you with me in that prayer?
Bottom line is, we fail. I failed. But, those failures did not prevent me from continuing. I welcomed failures and learned from them. I strived to be better. Our competition is not our classmates, our enemy not our professors. Our competition and our enemy are, in fact, ourselves. If we give up, if we do not rise, if we do not learn from our failures, then we truly fail. Should I have given up for getting 65 and 64 in my Crim 1 examinations, maybe until now, you would have not known that Bulacan State University College of Law exists. Peace.
No matter what happens in our journey of legal education, even when we fail, let us keep ourselves in one piece. Study of law is a matter of mental fortitude. And that is my fourth guidepost for you: Study of law is a matter of mental fortitude. What I mean about mental fortitude is not about memorizing law but about our composure, our attitude towards study of law. When you think about it, everything is basic: Who are we? We are law students. And, what do we want? We want to become lawyers. It is very simple. That is our goal. That is our dream. So, to reach that dream, we must stay focused and determined, convinced by the nobility of our goal.
Four years. We are giving up four years of our lives, four years of our prime years, in exchange of studying law. Those four years could have been spent for a good career track in a reputable company. We are giving that up. Now that we are here, then let us make that exchange, fruitful, fulfilling and worth it. As long as we have not reached our dream of becoming lawyers, we need to keep our body and soul intact.
To help us reach our goal of becoming lawyers, we should always go back to the very reason we decided to take up law. We have different reasons, but note that our reason is our foundation, and it is our best foundation. And this is my fifth and last guidepost for you: Why? We ask ourselves. During our first year, our professors may have already asked us this question.
When I failed the UP LAE, I told myself that law is not for me. Since I was working that time in Bulacan, my father asked me if I wanted to try law school in Bulacan State University, at least for one semester. If I do not like law, then I can stop. Being a good son that I was, or so I think, I tried. When professors, during my first year, asked me why I wanted to become a lawyer, I comically gave different answers to different professors – my parents wanted me to become a lawyer, I wanted to earn good money, I wanted to help the poor and the underprivileged. My classmates jokingly once asked me, if what I am saying is true as my answer varies every time. Truth is, I have no single compelling reason. I wanted to become a lawyer for many reasons. Following the wishes of my parents, yes. Helping the poor, yes. Earning good money, yes.
Various reasons, really. Whatever my reasons are, I always go back to them when I am in doubt. I draw strength from them. It is like the Latin maxim, ratio legis est anima (the reason of the law is its soul). Our reason for studying law is our soul as students of law. Go back to them. Hold on to them. Draw inspiration from them. When we chose this path of legal education, we acknowledge and embrace the hardships that come with it. Let us not resist studying; instead, welcome it.
To reiterate the guideposts I shared with you: First, luck has no place in the study of law. While the odds are not in our favour, we will create ones that will be in our favour. Second, shortcuts, like luck, and the study of law do not go well together. Do not rush; the study of law takes time. Third, if you fall, rise. Out of the ashes of failure, we rise stronger, better. Fourth, the study of law is a matter of mental fortitude. No matter what, keep your body and soul intact. Fifth and last, why? Remember, our reason is our best foundation.
Those are my guideposts in studying law and preparing for the bar examination. All of them have begun during my law school years. By religiously following them, fortunately, I landed among the top notchers, top 10 with a rating of 85.75%. Relatively, it is high, considering it is the 10th highest grade. When I look at it, however, at a different perspective, it shows that there is a need to learn more.
Consider this: The bar examination measures what a lawyer should know. If that is so, then the bar examination is a representation of the laws, as well as jurisprudence, - that is if you get a 100% perfect score in the bar, it is presumed that you know all the laws and jurisprudence up to the cut-off date in the syllabus. The presumption, of course, is disputable. Our 2015 bar syllabi indicated that cut-off date for jurisprudence is March 31, 2015. Following this, based on my rating, I only know 85.75% of the laws and jurisprudence as of March 31, 2015. I know nothing of the 14.25%. What if the solution to my problem, to a resolution to an issue in a case, lies not within my 85.75% but outside, at the 14.25%? In fact, right now, as I speak, that 14.25% may no longer hold true. There are new cases decided, new laws passed, and amendments to existing ones. That 14.25% void is increasing every day. This marks my need for continuing learning. And in this respect, you and I are no different – we are all students of law.
Study of law is a lifetime commitment. One does not stop studying simply because one passes bar examination. You are students of law, in the strict sense of the term, one who goes to law school to attend law subjects. Lawyers are students of law, as well, in the generic sense of the term, one who continues to study the law and apply the law. The difference between the two is that your duties right now are to your professors – to go to classes and study and to your family – to justify your baon, to make your parents proud by becoming a lawyer; while the duty of a lawyer is embedded in the Code of Professional Responsibility – duties to society, legal profession, courts and clients. Truth is we are all students of law. We will forever be students of law. In this, I myself will continue to follow the guideposts I shared with you.
One last thing that I wish to share with you is something personal. I do not come from a well-to-do family. My father and mother’s business is junkshop. Our junkshop is beside a dumpsite (tambakan ng basura). Every day, for more than a decade now, they are there, enduring untold hardships and day-to-day smell of garbage. In fact, I have no car, I came here today, commuting from Bulacan. When I attended law school, until 3rd year, I only have one coat (which I bought when I was in high school). Our classes were during night. I rode jeepney and tricycle going to school. Some people may have thought, I will attend JS prom. I just had my coat dry cleaned on weekends. I was working during my first year in an IT company in Bulacan. I went to work, 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Classes started at 5:30 PM. I was always late or I worked under time to be on time for terror professors. Classes were up to 9:30 PM or sometimes 10:00 PM. I went home, at 10:30 PM then I cooked my dinner first. Then I studied, up to 2 AM or 3 AM. Then I wake up 7:00 AM for work. And the cycle went on. The College of Law of Bulacan State University is a young one. As I have mentioned earlier, the college opened in 2002. Although we have now our own building, we share it with other colleges in BSU. Ours is a state university – not sharing resources is frowned upon.
Sometimes, we do not even have classrooms as other colleges are using our rooms (I have to pretend to be sad about this, after all no class room means no classes!) Our facilities are not totally up to date. Our library is a bit small and can only accommodate so much students. We cannot even bring out most books for photocopy as there is only one copy of them. As I cannot buy all the books I wanted, I frequently had to beg our librarian to secretly allow me to borrow the books before closing of the library with the express promise to return it the morning next day upon opening. BSU is also prone to flooding during rainy months (Again, I have to pretend to be sad about this, after all no class room means no classes!) Most of our professors are part-time professors – judges, prosecutors and practicing lawyers. Several of them are coming from Metro Manila. Oftentimes, they miss classes (Once again, I have to pretend to be sad about this, after all no professor means no classes!)
My point is this: I did what I can under the circumstances. Some of you may be way better than what I had. You may have cars. You have money to buy all the books and reviewers you want. Your law school may have all the best legal minds in the country as faculty. Take advantage of what you have right now. Some of you may have a life worse or more difficult than what I had during law school. It is alright. Make the best and most out of what you have. We do with what we have.
As we are here in law school, let us deepen our learning. Going beyond the confines of the four corners of our classrooms, let us enrich our experience by uplifting the legal education in every law school through national camaraderie. True, legal education begins with our selves. But, it does not have to end there. We extend ourselves to our fellow law students. We build bridges and create connections. By doing so, we advance excellence. I hope in the next ALSP Conventions to come, all law schools nationwide will have participants – including, of course, Bulacan State University. We exist. All the law schools exist.
Finally, our immediate goal is passing the bar examination. Remember, the bar examination, it has been said, is the greatest equalizer. Whoever we are, wherever we have come from, whatever our school be, we will be weighed and we will be measured uniformly. Let us not allow ourselves to be found wanting.
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