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Home / Speeches / Education

Speech of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay during the U.P. College of Law Centennial Homecoming
Posted: Friday, November 11, 2011

“The UP College of Law After a Hundred Years”

This is a very special day for me, for today marks the day the Good Lord and my parents, Diego Medrano Binay and Lourdes Gatan Cabauatan, gave me life and, therefore, an opportunity to be of service to our country and people.

The rather propitious coincidence of this date, which puts elevens in a row---like the jackpot sign in a slot machine---understandably caused such excitement among my family and staff that they forgot to include this homecoming in my overcrowded 11-11-11 schedule.

I resolved the matter simply by asking myself this question: if I didn’t make it to this homecoming tonight, wouldn’t I have to wait another hundred years to make it to the next one?

And so, here I am.

It is but proper that I spend part of this special day with you. For where would I be today if I had not gone to the U.P. College of Law? Of course, my wife asks the more difficult question, where would I be today if she did not marry me?

As our college happens to be much older than all of us here, I have to honor its birthday more than my own. There’s no question of which one takes precedence. For this centennial anniversary allows us, its alumni, to take a measure of what this College has done for the country, what the nation owes this College, what each one of us owes the U.P. College of Law, especially those who have been called to serve.

But in looking at the last one hundred years, the first question we should probably ask is how has the College fared in its public business as a law school?

Those who enter the hallowed grounds of Malcolm Hall are welcomed by the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. which say: 

“The business of a law school is not sufficiently described when you merely say that it is to teach law or make lawyers. It is to teach law in the grand manner, and to make great lawyers.”

Now, how has our College fared in that mission in the last one hundred years?

One ready answer is that the College has produced at least four (4) presidents, four (4) vice presidents, six (6) senate presidents, five (5) speakers of the House of Representatives,  and 12 chief justices of the Supreme Court. In the rolls of the Philippine Senate, 43 have come from the U.P. College of Law, eight (8) of whom are incumbent senators. No other law school in the country can match that record.

Not only have our alumni occupied the highest ranks of the three branches of our government. They have also dominated every layer of public service and private industry. Wherever there is a challenge to be met, a job to be done, a service to perform ----whether it be on the bench, in the legislature, the civil service, the academe, NGOs, public and private corporations, professional organizations, political parties or revolutionary movements ---you find U.P. Law graduates giving it their best shot. Wherever the winds of circumstance and opportunity take them, they leave their mark of excellence on their job.

But let us go back to the rest of what Justice Holmes told the Harvard Law School Association at the 250th anniversary of Harvard University on November 5, 1886 --- that a law school does not undertake to teach success, but what it does undertake is to teach law. You cannot make a student a master by teaching. He added, a student makes himself a master by aid of his natural gifts.

And Justice Holmes concludes: “It is the crowning glory of this law school that it has kindled in many hearts an inextinguishable fire.”

According to that dictum, a great law school sets lawyers’ hearts on fire. And not just any fire, but an inextinguishable fire. An unquenchable fire. You become a kind of eternal torch for law and justice, as it were.

What Justice Holmes said of his law school then we should be able to say of our College without any false conceit after a hundred years. And with his tacit consent, we should be able to adopt his words as our own, and offer our individual testimonies to that “inextinguishable fire” which our College has kindled in our hearts. Let me offer you my own.

I have always been an underdog. I began as an underdog and came to U.P. as an underdog. Born in the most modest and humble of circumstance, I was orphaned at an early age. But for the kindness and generosity of an uncle, whose life was likewise simple, I would not have been able to make it through school. In the face of adversity and deprivation, I resolved early in life to work hard, get a good education, and give every man his due.

When as a wide-eyed law freshman I finally set foot at the U.P. College of Law as a working student, I knew I had stayed the course and would have a fighting chance, whatever the odds. I worked by day so I could study by night. Even small indulgences like having dinner out or drinks with law classmates I had to minimize.

Like all of you, I survived the Socratic recitations of our professors----Professor Ambion in Criminal Law, Professor Estelito Mendoza in Civil Law, and Prof. Troadio Quiazon in Political Law. I survived the trauma of reciting during Prof. Mendoza’s class as well as the endless paper chase of case digesting, midterms, and finals.

Now, if you could survive four years of those, there was no reason you could not hurdle the bar exams. And so I did.

Life as a litigation lawyer fascinated me, and my practice, devoted mostly to representing indigent clients, took off to a good start. But the days of disquiet and dissent in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s called us to speak for freedom and human rights not only in court but first of all in the vast public square where many of those freedoms and rights were being violated.

I took up the cudgels for the oppressed and marginalized, and got involved in organizing MABINI, which stands for Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, and Nationalism, Inc. When the revolutionary transition came, my public record caught the eye of our revolutionary president, Cory Aquino, and I was offered the post of O.I.C. mayor of Makati.

The rest is history. In the more than 20 years that I was mayor of Makati, we succeeded in transforming the city from a backwater into the country’s premier financial district that has since won citations from the World Bank and other multilateral institutions for its many programs and accomplishments.

But even then, I remained the underdog. For most of the past administration, they tried repeatedly to unseat me because of my firm opposition to the policies of former presidents. But I stuck to my guns, put all my legal training to work, and thwarted all illegal moves to have me ousted on trumped up charges.

The final test came when I decided to run for Vice President. In December of 2009, when the campaign started, I was enjoying no more than two percent rating in the surveys. My own family doubted it was the wisest move I had ever made. In public, they held their peace, but in private, they were completely merciless, and none of them could be provoked into betting seriously on my chances.

But I decided the only answers were determination, perseverance, hard work, and sacrifice, all of which were part of the training in the U.P. College of Law. I covered the cities and countryside like a fine toothcomb and spoke to everyone who would speak to me. I then discovered that I had so many cousins I had never met before---mga kasing-itim, kasing-tanda, at kasing-tangkad---all in the grassroots. These were the masses. Like Abraham Lincoln, I realized that the Good Lord has made so many men and women like me, and to them I entrusted my fate. In the end, I got their support.

My friends, I have shared with you my story not from any vain motive, but simply to remind ourselves of what we can do with determination and courage,

Even in the poorest and most inauspicious of circumstances. We only need to work hard with integrity and resolve, calling on what we have learned from others and on our natural gifts, and keep the fire burning for god, people and country in our hearts.

Even more than what we need to do for each other as alumni, we need to encourage our young law students to take an early interest in civic and political life, so that they may not simply quote their law books, but above all learn to breathe the real meaning of the law with the right spirit.

These are challenging times. Despite our best efforts, there seems to be a growing complaint that our system of law enforcement is breaking down, that there are attempts to enact laws that are either superfluous or have little or no constitutional or moral bases, and that there is not enough consistency or finality in the interpretation of our laws. This speaks directly to us as lawyers before it speaks to anybody else.

The rule of law remains the ultimate, if not the only, answer to all inclinations and addictions to lawlessness, dissidence, disorder and crime. But society must have a common understanding of what the law means, of what justice means, in order for the rule of law to keep society in fighting shape.

For as Roscoe Pound has observed, “The ambiguity of the term ‘law’ that makes it easy to think of the law as only a body of rules of law is quite as much a menace to the legal order on one side as overconfident lay trust in legislation is on another side.”

We need the law to reaffirm, whenever possible, that which is true about the human person and promotes life, liberty, human dignity and human well-being. Law cannot spring from a moral vacuum, nor in any case create it: the lawyer, judge, lawmaker, law enforcer and plain citizen must recognize that there are certain things that are always right, and certain things that are always wrong, and which no positivist parliament or relativist  court can (or should) ignore or change.

The moral order is the first building block of the legal order; one does not do away with the other. And just as the absence of law cannot create the rule of law, neither can “the rain of law” do so. Law becomes suspect the moment it becomes a sheer instrument of power; it must derive its validity and strength from some authentic moral foundation. Thus, in a well-ordered society, the lawyers, judges, legislators, law enforcers, administrators and plain citizens must always work together. Where the church and the state are separate, even they must work together.

As U.P. Alumni, let us all actively promote that goal. Let us continue to call on the best and the brightest from our College to help in their areas of special competence.

A number of them have already signed up. Some simply wanted to help, even though they had very little disposable time; others did not mind giving up their lucrative corporate niches to be able to do something one is not always given the opportunity to do in a lifetime.

In my case, they have been a great help in my many complex and overlapping duties as chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council or HUDCC and five other key shelter agencies, Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Workers’ Concerns, chairman emeritus of the Inter-Agency Committee Against Trafficking, head of the Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment, and as cabinet member. I could always count on them to tell me I am wrong whenever I am wrong. That is an indispensable and irreplaceable service, though an increasingly rare one, in government. May I mention some of them:

Former Supreme Court Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, U.P. Law ’62, legal consultant to the Vice President; Atty. Manuel Sanchez, U.P. Law ’67, president, Home Guaranty Corporation; Atty. JV Bautista, U.P. Law ’83, consultant on political affairs; Atty. Luis Paredes, U.P. Law ’83, trustee, Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board; Atty. Darlene Berberabe, U.P. Law’99, president, Pag-ibig Fund. Atty. Berberabe had to give up a high-paying job in a large multinational firm to come on board.

Wherever all our other law alumni may be, I have no doubt they are all doing well, and that from them will come many of our new leaders, innovators, and possibly game-changers.

But back to our U.P. Law beloved. To shore-up and sustain its business of producing great lawyers, I reiterate my commitment to the U.P. Law Centennial Committee to provide the necessary assistance to help our law graduates prepare for the bar examinations, and ultimately raise our overall performance in the annual examinations. We need to work out very carefully the details of this program. But we need to have it now.

The U.P. College of Law cannot afford to play second fiddle to anyone. The teaching of law in the grand manner and the making of great lawyers should begin on the very first day the student enters Malcolm Hall and should be sustained all throughout. They should never be made incompatible with dominating the annual bar examinations.

Although performance in the bar exams is not the ultimate measure of a lawyer’s caliber or worth, passing the bar is an absolute requirement, and it is unacceptable that the mortality rate of our examinees should be going up instead of going down.

In the same way that I implored U.P. during the recent alumni homecoming to win at least one game in the UAAP, I make this solemn appeal for the College to please produce bar topnotchers in the coming years.

Thank you very much for this great birthday celebration. Mabuhay ang U.P. College of Law! Mabuhay tayong lahat! Mabuhay ang mahal nating bansang Pilipinas!