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The Ateneo Law School story

Today, June 6, 2011, the Ateneo Law School celebrates its Diamond Jubilee. Allow me, therefore, to “boast” a little.

The Law School could have been much older than 75 had it not been for the vicissitudes of Jesuit history. Not that age is necessarily the measure of greatness, but grey hair can command some reverence.

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The story begins when the Spanish colonial government felt the need for lawyers while Manila had neither legal courts nor schools of law to train lawyers. The Audiencia, forced to fill the gap, exercised both criminal and civil justice—to nobody’s satisfaction. The situation clamored for a solution. Thus it was that in 1717 King Philip V of Spain established three chairs of law in Manila—one for Canon Law, another for Civil Law and a third for Roman Law. Unfortunately the chairs were not attached to any school and for eight years not a single student came to attend lectures.

Enter the Jesuits. The Manila Audiencia turned to the existing Jesuit school, Colegio de San Ignacio, and there established law professorships. Among the distinguished professors was the 27-year-old Jesuit Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde who arrived in Manila in 1723. Fr. Murillo Velarde had studied law in the University of Granada and taught law at the world-famous University of Salamanca.

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Alas, the law school enterprise had to suffer the fate of the Jesuits. In 1767 King Charles III of Spain decreed the expulsion of Jesuits from all Spanish dominions. The decree was carried out in the Philippines in 1768. Thus ended the first Jesuit law school enterprise in Manila.

Worse yet, Pope Clement XIV, under strong pressure from the Bourbons of France, Spain and Naples, suppressed the Society of Jesus. The decree of suppression, however, needed the conformity of reigning monarchs. Empress Catherine of Russia chose not to implement the suppression and Jesuits found refuge in her domain.

Jesuit resurrection came in 1814 when Pope Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus throughout the world. Queen Isabella II of Spain followed with the request for Jesuits to return to the Philippines. In 1859, or 150 years ago the other year, 10 Jesuits arrived in Manila with instructions to evangelize the mountain tribes of Mindanao and other islands. Soon enough, however, they were persuaded to establish a school, Ateneo Municipal de Manila, which would later evolve into what is now the Ateneo de Manila University.

It was not, however, until June 6, 1936 that the Ateneo de Manila, by then under American Jesuits, decided to open a school of law.

The first Dean of Law was Manuel Lim. Legal luminaries were recruited as professors from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the legislature and from among private practitioners. Classes were held in the main building of the Ateneo between Dakota Street and Taft Avenue on Padre Faura. In large airy classrooms students dug into Manresa, Sanchez Roman and Viada and into a gradually developing Philippine and American jurisprudence and other legal literature.

Among the more prominent law school campus figures were Raul Manglapus, Ernesto Escaler and Felipe Buencamino who brought honor to the school with their debating prowess. The first graduates all passed the Bar Examinations and the class valedictorian of the second batch of graduates, Claudio Teehankee, was the first Atenean to top the Bar examinations. Since then, an enviable tradition of high performance at the Bar Examinations has continued.

Once more, however, law studies in the Ateneo had to be interrupted. In 1941 the nation went to war. Inter arma silent leges.

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The entire Ateneo de Manila in Padre Faura was ravaged by war and the Law School did not reopen until 1948. Classes were held in Quonset huts until a modern building, dominated by a statue of St. Thomas More, could be built.

Martial law in 1972 did not interrupt the running of the school. The participation of students in the struggle for the full restoration of democracy did not affect the high standards of academic excellence.

In 1978 the school moved to De la Costa Street in the Makati business district. But as the number of students and the need for more room grew, another move had to be made. In 1998 the school moved to its present location in Rockwell Center, Makati City.

As the school celebrates its 75th year, what does it have to show?

Its place of honor is now secure in the legal world of the Philippines. Its students have been winning in moot court competitions both local and regional and have won the highly prestigious World Moot Court competition in Washington, D.C. Its graduating students regularly reap the highest percentage of passing in Bar Examinations. Many alumni and alumnae are highly respected in law practice, both traditional and “alternative.” They are also prominent in the world of legislation, and in local and national executive positions. Its Human Rights Center has won world recognition. More and more alumni and alumnae are being appointed to the various levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, where two have become Chief Justice.

All that is left is for the current administration, faculty and students of the school to strive to surpass what has been achieved so far. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

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TAGS: Ateneo Law School, Diamond Jubilee, History, Jesuits, law school
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