Between a rock and a hard case | Inquirer Opinion

Between a rock and a hard case

12:04 AM June 20, 2017

Why are you here?” our law school dean, Jose Mari Tirol, asked me during my entrance interview three years ago. “What brings you, a geologist, to the study of law, the most inexact of sciences?”

I knew that people would ask questions about my decision, whether from obligation or from sheer curiosity. I had a decent job in a geothermal energy company; why did I make the sudden career change? Moreover, there are only a few geologists in our country, and even fewer decide to leave the profession to enter law school. The shift from studying tectonic plate motions to studying motions for reconsideration just seemed too seismic.


But geology isn’t the most exact of sciences, either. There’s plenty of guesswork and gut feel mixed with the geometry. On the field, various questions will present themselves to the geologist, each demanding the utmost observational skills. This
concave-shaped mountain slope, is it evidence that there was a crater here before, that the mountain is an extinct volcano? Is this linear break on the face of this cliff a fault, or is it a mere fracture? And if it is a fault, what’s the sense of movement? The rocks on this hillside appear unstable; what are the chances of a landslide happening if there’s a sudden downpour? To answer these adequately, you have to rely on not just book smarts but also street smarts—or slope smarts, to be exact.

Geology, like law school, requires sleepless nights and
copious mental exertions. Much like in law school where I have to do all-nighters to prepare for recitations or exams, I had instances in my old job where I worked overnight during the drilling of a geothermal well. I had to check in the microscope if the rocks being drilled had minerals indicative of a temperature suitable for geothermal energy extraction. If I got my analysis wrong, the drilled well would not produce the intended amount of energy, and the company would waste millions of pesos. Those high-pressure situations helped me prepare for times during class when the professor would pepper me with questions about, say, the case of Cayetano vs Monsod.


So, yes, geology can be a suitable, albeit unorthodox, background if you want to go to law school. Unfortunately, some people can’t help but express disappointment when they learn that I gave up geology to study law. One even went as far as saying, “But there’s a high demand for geologists, especially abroad! Just leave law to the PolSci students!”

While it is nice that people seem to be more aware of the importance of scientists such as geologists in society, it is unfortunate that this awareness sometimes comes with the belief that traditionally popular non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions, like law, are overrated, even unnecessary. I recently read an article lamenting the public obsession with the bar exam and the top passers. Why, it asked, can’t people give the same attention to the engineers, chemists and other practitioners of the hard sciences? After all, don’t we have too many lawyers already? And despite the harshness of the bar exams, supposedly to create capable practitioners of the law, why is lawlessness still rampant in our society? On the other hand, we’re lagging behind our Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of research and development, and our scientists are leaving the country for better-paying jobs abroad. Why can’t we entice students to prepare for a future in labs instead of in law firms?

That got me thinking. Yes, entering law school was an imprudent decision. I left behind a stable job, a decent salary, and the means to provide for my parents and other family members. Yes, I could theoretically help this nation more if I observed lava flows than if I studied legal forms, but deep inside I felt that I never had what it took to be a great geologist. A considerable amount of geology work involves climbing mountains, and I have weak lungs, arthritic knees, and an abysmal sense of balance. I knew that I was limited, and my ceiling as a geologist could only go as high as my wobbly legs could carry me before
I fall off a cliff. The best that I could offer was mediocrity,
and the Filipino people demanded—needed—greatness. And I thought that I had the mental aptitude necessary to achieve greatness in the field of law. Also, at the end of the day, wasn’t my purpose of going to law school to help the Filipino nation
and those less fortunate than me?

Every year, in the remote barangay of Sipitan, our law school organizes a Christmas party which doubles as an outreach program. To get to the elementary school where the party is held, one must first walk 100 meters of slightly sloping terrain, far less cruel than the slopes I trekked in my exploration geology days, but still tiring to the unaccustomed. We give the kids there gifts of toys and books, but more importantly, we try to give them hope that they can succeed. One of our law professors, Cirilo Yuro, was born there, and he annually gives a talk to the students and parents about the importance of believing that they can succeed in life despite their humble beginnings.

On my part, I noticed that the school was built beside a hill, that the slope behind the school appeared to be composed of loose soil material, and that there was evidence of slope failure. I talked to one of the teachers, who confirmed that they had experienced landslides. I made some recommendations on how to prevent another landslide from occurring, or at least mitigate its damage. Hopefully, what I said could be helpful in ensuring that the school would be safe for everyone.

While a landslide may seem a purely scientific or engineering concern, it may become a legal concern if it causes damage to life and property. Also, issues such as mining, biodiversity, genetically modified organisms, and pollution control fall within the intersection of science and the law. This is why we need people in this country who have both the scientific knowledge to understand the causes of these problems, the legal background to provide the proper framework to implement the solutions, and, perhaps most importantly, the willingness to help. And that is why I’m here.

* * *

Ricardo E. Escanlar III, 29, is a fourth year law student at the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City. He obtained his degree in geology from the University of the Philippines Diliman in 2009.

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