Why law school is like Hogwarts | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

Why law school is like Hogwarts

QUEDLINBURG, Germany — I still reflexively stand up when my old professor Vicente V. Mendoza texts. Yes, the law professor of law professors, justice of justices and legal legend of legal
legends fact checks my column.

Justice (ret.) VVM surely smiled seeing his student, former solicitor general Florin Hilbay, defend Sen. Leila de Lima before his students, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Justices Presbitero Velasco, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Francis Jardeleza and Marvic Leonen. Or he at least laughed at my play-by-play commentary.


My student self so easily forgot that VVM decided the cases we study. Beyond VVM, a terrified classmate had to recite the Estrada decision on Edsa II to Dean Pacifico Agabin, who quipped: “When I argued that to the Supreme Court, they said I was wrong.”

In that blissful world, Jardeleza was merely my Philippine Law Journal adviser. Joel Butuyan was my legal aid adviser. I had no idea Raffy Morales, Teresita Herbosa and Susan Villanueva were leaders of their fields. I handed out law journals to Carpio and his visiting brethren without ever saying, “Your Honor.”


And it was just normal when now International Criminal Court Judge Raul Pangalangan sued the president over Randy David’s 2006 arrest, and sparred with then Chief Justice Reynato Puno in a three-hour hearing.

I never wondered if my professors had conversations that ran: “Hurry up and lose, Lord Voldemort, I have to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts in an hour!”

There is something magical about being able to study law in its purest intellectual beauty.

The Hilbay of my student world was fresh from Yale, with long hair, tweed blazer and frayed jeans. We argued the right to privacy at length in his office. When I later sat in Prof. Laurence Tribe’s lecture on the two rights to privacy — informational and decisional — I realized Hilbay and I had each been arguing something else.

It is too easy to forget that the cast and I are no longer standing in a University of the Philippines corridor. I formed many key ideas I write about when I was a freshman. But for the stakes, today’s national debates differ little from old casual banter with VVM.

One appreciates magic not when one is surrounded by it, but when one goes off into the Muggle world and busies oneself with the minutiae of notarial rules (which, incidentally, were cited to jail De Lima).

Corollarily, law students are oblivious to their own power. They have no idea they are holding the Elder Wand or studying under Dumbledore—or maybe, The Boy Who Lived. Indeed, when Carpio wrote his famous 2003 MVRS dissent, he cited his own 1972 Philippine Law Journal student article.


To protest the Marcos state burial, for example, UP Law students blew up a page from a key Supreme Court decision condemning Marcos on a giant tarpaulin. Their rally placard was far more brilliant than the silly word games activists brought to the Supreme Court.

Young lawyers Gil Anthony Aquino and Tin Antonio won the first “amparo” petition against “tokhang” before the Supreme Court, in less than a week. They recently filed a second petition for San Andres Bukid, Manila, with less media fanfare than less concrete petitions by more prominent advocates.

Sadly, our popular imagination snubs young unknowns, who may not even realize it when they destroy a horcrux.

Dementors twist law from magic into political pawn. Our society prescribes no penalty for blatantly misstating law. Theories spontaneously mocked by freshmen on Facebook somehow define headlines.

Beyond the last defenders of Camelot such as new Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Abdiel Fajardo and the few impartial legal commentators, perhaps law students should take it upon themselves to guard the integrity of law in our national discourse. If our law schools are at the intellectual front lines, the Battle of Hogwarts was won by students.

One can aspire to simply pass the bar. But if one styles oneself a dreamer, an idealist and a wizard, perhaps one should aspire to bring magic back into law and our dreary world.

React: oscar[email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Florin Hilbay, Francis Jardeleza, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sisyphus’ Lament, Vicent V. Mendoza
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