THE LEGACY OF THE ATENEO LAW SCHOOL TO THE PHILIPPINES AND THE FILIPINOS

When a Catholic law school marks its diamond jubilee, inevitably it assays how its graduates have lived up to the ideas and the ideals, the principles and the practices, the values and the virtues it carved in their souls.

The legacy of the Ateneo Law School to the Philippines and to the Filipinos consists of two jewels. One is the commitment of its graduates to their ideals and principles, sometimes even unto death. The other is the concern of its graduates for the underprivileged.

Upon the proclamation of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972 until the dawn of freedom after the EDSA Revolution, the three Justices of Supreme Court who studied at the Ateneo Law School, Justices Claudio Teehankee, Venicio Escolin, and Lorenzo Relova, kept vigil during the darkest hours of the Marcos dictatorship.

Justice Claudio Teehankee repeatedly fought for the rule of law and respect for human rights. He declared the ratification of the 1973 Constitution as farcical. He dissented from the majority opinion which upheld the reorganization of the Judiciary. Standing for the independence of the Judiciary, he argued that the abolition of the Court of appeals, the Courts of First Instance, the City Courts, and the Municipal Courts subverted the security of tenure of the incumbent members of the judiciary. He voted for the immediate release of the three human rights lawyers in Davao City who were arrested and detained for representing political detainees.

Justice Venicio Escolin condemned as a general search warrant a search warrant ordering the seizure of all the equipment of a newspaper which had been severely criticizing the Marcos administration.

Justice Lorenzo Relova also nullified for lack of probable cause a search warrant issued against a newspaper for publishing subversive materials, because the application for it did not pinpoint the subversive articles.

During the trial of the soldiers charged with the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., Justice Lorenzo Relova broke ranks with the majority and voted for the admission against them of the testimonies which they previously gave during the investigation before the Agrava Board.

Justice Claudio Teehankee, Venicio Escolin and Lorenzo Relova voted to uphold the constitutionality of the law which scheduled a special presidential election in 1986. This paved the way for the election in which President Corazon Aquino ran against President Ferdinand Marcos. The massive election fraud precipitated the EDSA Revolution.

While the outcome of the EDSA Revolution hanged in the balance, Justice Claudio Teehankee took his fate into his own hands and cast his lot on the side of people power. He administered the oath of office to President Corazon Aquino.

Determined to let justice be done though the heavens fall, Judge Voltaire Rosales convicted a drug dealer despite the threats to his life. He was killed by assassins, who ambushed him.

Similarly, Judge Jose Colayco decided an election protest against the protestant despite the threats to his life.

Judge Simeon Ferrer declared the Anti-Subversion Law unconstitutional for being a bill of detainer despite the strong pressure exerted on him by the government. In reprisal, President Ferdinand Marcos purged him from the Judiciary after the proclamation of martial law.

Judge Lino Anover convicted the scion of a powerful politician clan who burned the houses of those who dared to cast their votes in favor of the opponent of his father.

Evelio Javier, the stalwart of President Corazon Aquino in Antique during the special presidential election of 1986, refused to abandon the people of Antique. Without his leadership, the opposition in Antique would crumble. He was fully aware that he was doomed, as hired assassins were shadowing him. He was gunned down while clutching a blood-stained rosary.

Ramon Felipe served as the lone dissenter in the Commission on Elections during the fraudulent special presidential election in 1986. After the EDSA Revolution, as the new Chairman of the Commission on Elections, he shepherded the full restoration of democracy in the Philippines in the first elections held under the 1987 Constitution.

Dante Ardevilla, a Regional Director of the Department of Labor and Employment, spurned the bribes offered to him by employers. As he sighed his dying breath, he asked his family for their understanding, because he was leaving them no worldly possessions.

Likewise, some graduates of the Ateneo Law School have devoted their lives helping the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, and the dispossessed.

Dean Jeremias Montemayor hailed from the landed gentry in Pangasinan. He breathed life into the social teachings of the Catholic Chruch by organizing the Federation of Free Farmers. He poured his energies into the enactment of the Agricultural Land Reform Code and the implementation of agrarian reform in the Philippines.

Roberto Gana graduated with honors and emerged as a bar top-notcher. Turning down all lucrative offers from major law offices, he devoted his life to fighting for oppressed laborers, farmers, and squatters. He established the Sentro ng alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN) as the organization for his legal aid battles. He perished in a plane crash while on his way to help the Sumilao farmers press their fight for agrarian reform. His companions are continuing to wage his legal battles.

Jose Tale is devoting all his energies into building homes for the homeless and the hopeless under the auspices of Gawad Kalinga.

There are many more graduates of the Ateneo Law School in the public service who continue to serve with integrity and dedication. There are numerous graduates of the Ateneo Law School who continue to defend the rights of the underprivileged and the oppressed.

The exemplary lives of the graduates of the Ateneo Law School are like diamonds that will sparkle so long as the Ateneo Law School endures.

Atty. Jacinto Jimenez is a member of the faculty of the Ateneo Law School.