Saturday, March 17, 2018
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Sisyphus’ Lament

Cutting class made me a better lawyer

/ 05:06 AM December 25, 2017

My most beloved professors let me cut class, I reflexively told Philippine Law Register interviewer Roy Necesario.

Certain University of the Philippines College of Law professors notoriously cut class.

The legend goes that one was only one-third present—my old seatmate Ellan Pailan swears it was not just one-third absent—then called a Saturday makeup to cram half the syllabus and cut that, too. Another cut class for two weeks to go out of town—without telling the class until after the trip.


But the luminaries came to class religiously, and conspiratorially let me disappear.

Freshmen notice not just professor Elizabeth Pangalangan’s Harvard Law degree, but her uncanny ability to terrify with just a stare that bores straight to the back of one’s skull, without even raising her voice.

“Zoolander” fans, “Magnum” has nothing on Ma’am Beth.

But I once went to her office to complain that the Supreme Court paternity decision she assigned was blatantly wrong.

To my surprise, she dropped the terror act she puts on for freshmen. The motherly scholar emerged, coaxing out my unthinkable criticism of the “gods of Padre Faura.”

In our next class, she made me draw a Punnett square and had the biology graduates confirm my Grade 7 genetics point that a child’s blood type can in fact differ from both parents’.

Ma’am Beth emboldened me to cut class—beginning with her husband’s.

It was my dream to study securities law, a nonbar subject not in the curriculum. I cut class for a talk by then Securities and Exchange Commission chair Lilia Bautista, the year after the BW Resources stock trading scandal.


Dean Raul Pangalangan caught me sitting in the middle of the front row as he greeted her before his class. He gave me his version of the Pangalangan stare and told her I could stay, being clearly less interested in his class.

He even let me add cases to the syllabus. Will Smith’s “Ali” showed in the middle of the semester. I dug up the religious freedom decision Cassius Clay Jr. aka Muhammad Ali v. US.

Dean Pacifico Agabin once petrified

Ellan by calling for “Mr. Tan’s seatmate.” He received not a scolding for my absence, but handwritten comments to my paper on constitutional restrictions on drug testing. Then, right when class ended, I appeared to discuss them.

In 2015, we published “A Liberal Interpretation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” in the middle of the congressional hearings.

I impertinently told legendary banking professor Raffy Morales I took his class since it was the closest to securities law. He laughed that he was writing the country’s first securities regulation textbook and let me write a paper on tender offers.

Our chats have since gone to topics such as Islamic finance. He gave me the confidence to delve into the layers of laws that apply today to cryptocurrencies and multicountry corporate buyouts.

During freshman orientation, Dean Pangalangan held up a CD containing every single Supreme Court decision, state of the art for 2001 and priced P30,000.

He challenged that UP Law students cannot simply memorize laws because they are worth more than P30,000.

I took this lesson to heart, amidst the soul crushing memory game we call legal education. It was the same mindset as my Ateneo Management Engineering program’s, which emphasized not memorizing calculus formulae, but being able to rewrite them.

Artificial intelligence will make bar exam focused memorization obsolete, I warned Roy. Klaus Schwab’s book “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” posits a

50 percent chance of an AI on a board of directors by 2025. I already use an AI that filters thousands of due diligence documents in less than an hour, where an army of Roys might take a week.

This Christmas, I reflect on how a world of self-driving cars, rewritten genes and blockchain property registers makes me appreciate professors who prepared me to apply laws we have yet to write.

They let me embrace UP’s timeless maxim: Never let your schooling interfere with your education.

Thank you for another year and your support in “JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World.”

React:, Twitter @oscarfbtan,

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