by Sheila S. Coronel and Alecks P. Pabico

THIS blog post is an attempt to clarify the PCIJ’s previous reporting on the University of the Philippines College of Law. It does not intend to rake up old wounds, but to point out where we were wrong and where our reporting failed to capture the complex story of politics in the college. We should have known better. Politics in the UP law faculty is more byzantine than politics most anywhere else. Our apologies for thinking it was so simple. Our apologies as well for the delay. We have been caught up in reporting and other work these past weeks and have only had time in recent days to put together our reporting on our reporting.

First: an admission of grievous error.

On Sept. 28, Alecks Pabico reported in this blog a supposed verbal instruction from the newly appointed U.P. law dean, Salvador Carlota, to members of the U.P. Law Center not to attend the scheduled Senate hearing on the North Rail project in light of President Arroyo’s recently issued Executive Order No. 464.

The information was relayed to our reporter on the eve of the hearing by a lawyer who was familiar with the North Rail case, and confirmed to us by another lawyer, also with the U.P. law faculty, who was similarly involved in the legal issues of the North Rail contract. Both these sources had proved reliable in the past and were consulted by us on many legal matters, including those concerning the goings-on at the law school.

For this reason, the report on Carlota’s supposed instruction was posted in this blog at 7 p.m. on Sept. 28. We considered this a timely story because that same night, news broke out about the Malacañang order preventing officials from testifying in Congress.

As pointed out by Dean Carlota himself the next day, the information we received — and blogged about — was false. Did our sources lie to us? Probably not. It is possible that they overreacted to Malacañang’s announcement and made certain presuppositions based on unconfirmed reports. We should have immediately asked Dean Carlota to verify the report but did not do so until the following day.

As a remedial measure, we did correct the blog post the next day by striking out the erroneous details, making evident to readers the portions that had been stricken out. Also on that day, we posted another blog entry that carried Dean Carlota’s denial that he ever instructed professors of the UP College of Law not to testify before the Senate.

Looking back, we now realize that these corrective measures were not enough. In his blog, lawyer JJ Disini, also of the U.P. College of Law, has called ours a “quasi-retraction” and criticized what he said was a half-baked correction. He is right. We should have been more forthright about our error. We should also have apologized for it. The way the corrections were made gave the impression we were covering up our mistake, or making light of it.

But it is not too late. We apologize to Dean Carlota and to our readers for that error and promise our readers that henceforth, we will own up to our mistakes in a more straightforward manner. We will also apologize for them.

The controversy over the deanship

We would also like to clarify another report by Alecks Pabico posted on Sept. 24, also related to the U.P. College of Law. That report, which said that Malacañang may have had a hand in the selection of a new dean for the College of Law, created a stir both in and outside the university. That report was based on interviews with three professors at the College of Law. As these professors corroborated each other’s account, we felt that we could report what they said.

We were wrong. We should have sought more views. We should have taken greater effort to corroborate. Being clueless about the politics there was not an excuse.

The truth, we have subsequently found out, is much more complex. While it may be true that the Palace or The Firm did try to influence the UP Board of Regents’ selection of a new law dean, there were other considerations — including internal squabbles and politics in the College of Law — that shaped the selection of Carlota as dean. We failed to reflect these other issues in our reporting. In so doing, we did not give a full account of what had transpired. By reporting on this now, we hope to atone for this lapse.

In its Oct. 24 issue, Newsbreak reported pretty much what we did in our Sept. 24 post. It said that Susan Villanueva, a lecturer at the U.P. College of Law and former partner of what used to be the Carpio Villaraza law firm, endorsed Carlota to the deanship. “The endorsement was sealed with a telephone call from Rodel Cruz, undersecretary of the Department of National Defense and former partner, too, of the firm,” said Newsbreak.

Rodel Cruz, it reported, is undersecretary to Avelino Cruz, one of the founding partners of “The Firm” and the president’s former legal counsel. The magazine went further on to report that Malacañang seemed unduly interested in the deanship because the College of Law “happens to be influential in legal and political circles.” Newsbreak hinted that Carlota was appointed to “help cool down the U.P. College of Law,” which under the deanship of Raul Pangalangan, had called on the president to resign.

We have since found out, however, that the story has many more angles than what had been previously been reported.

It is true that many in law faculty had endorsed Pangalangan’s election to a third, and unprecedented, term. Deans at the U.P. are appointed for third terms only under “exceptional circumstances.” There was a debate as to what exceptional means — some say the exceptional circumstance is when there is no other contender; others say that exceptional referred to the dean’s performance.

Whatever the interpretation, Pangalangan did not get unanimous faculty endorsement for his bid for a third term. Some members of the faculty in fact wanted a change. For starters, Susan Villanueva had opposed Pangalangan’s appointment as dean from the start. It should be remembered that Pangalangan’s assumption of the deanship was also shrouded in controversy, as the majority of the faculty members wanted Raphael Perpetuo ‘Popo’ Lotilla, now energy secretary, to be named to that post.

When Pangalangan’s first term was up three years ago, Villanueva again opposed his reappointment and endorsed instead another faculty member, Marvic Leonen, who is known for his strong anti-establishment views and his pioneering work in environmental law. Leonen is currently vice president for legal affairs of the university and was also a strong contender for the deanship this year. But he did not get Villanueva’s endorsement this time. Some suspect this was because he had publicly called on the president to resign.

Others in the law faculty felt that it was unlikely that either Leonen or Pangalangan would get the approval of the Board of Regents, which is stacked with Arroyo supporters. Yet, it would seem, both men felt they had a fighting chance to get the deanship if the Board would base its decision on academic criteria. That was a big IF, and many in the law faculty doubted that would be the case.

To these doubting professors, Carlota, who had voted with the majority of the law faculty calling for the president’s resignation, was a safe choice: he was more likely to get the regents’ approval than either Leonen and Pangalangan, but he would also be better than the other contender, Danilo Concepcion, who had been nominated for the deanship.

It was indeed Villanueva, a partner of The Firm, who nominated Carlota. Some faculty members believed she did so, not because of orders from either The Firm or the Palace, as reported by Newsbreak and the PCIJ blog.

These professors say that Villanueva endorsed Carlota simply because she didn’t want another contender, Concepcion, to be dean. Some in the faculty, who saw the futility of fighting for either Leonen or Pangalangan, happened to agree with her.

“Carlota was nominated by the group that didn’t want either Raul (Pangalangan) or Danny (Concepcion),” says a former faculty member who closely observed the struggle for the deanship. “Villanueva is a partner of The Firm but I don’t think she did it it because of this or out of any pressure from Malacañang. From the beginning, Susan has always been against Raul. I don’t think it had anything to do with Raul’s stand on the GMA resign issue.”

To some faculty members, it was not so much Malacañang intervention but anticipation of what the Board of Regents would do that sealed Carlota’s appointment to the deanship. “Nobody was against Carlota,” said one faculty member. “But nobody was for him either.”

Other faculty members, however, insist that there were maneuverings behind the scene in in the selection of the deanship. “I wouldn’t put it past The Firm (to intervene), but of course we don’t have proof,” says one law professor. “The Board of Regents was looking for stability. Marvic is too extreme. Raul’s third term was a long shot. So Carlota was the logical choice.”

To Carlota’s credit, however, all the sources we spoke to said he did not actively campaign for the deanship. But some other U.P. sources also insist that even while this was so, there was active lobbying for him in the Board of Regents. But then again, this is not unusual in the U.P., where there are always those seeking to influence the regents in their choices not only of deans but especially of the university president. These sources provide no other evidence of an outside hand in the selection of the law dean, except that the regents’ meeting seemed unusually short and there didn’t appear to be much discussion on the choices.

Former Supreme Court Justice Abraham Sarmiento, a member of the Board of Regents, said in a telephone interview that to the majority of the Board, Carlota appeared “the most able and appropriate, fitting person to become dean.”

“They’re saying there may be a Gloria hand (in the selection),” he said. “But I endorsed Carlota because he’s sober, he’s not politicking. I didn’t vote for him because of Gloria. She didn’t call me. She knows better. People say The Firm had a hand. Pangalangan goes around delivering speeches, writing in newspapers. But after two terms, he’s not qualified. Leonen had no supporters and of course, Gloria also has supporters in the Board.”

The first round of voting, according to Sarmiento was seven votes for Carlota, two for Concepcion, two for Pangalangan and one for Leonen. When a second round of voting was held after Pangalangan had been taken out of the running, the voting was still seven for Carlota, four for Concepcion and one for Leonen. If Carlota hadn’t been nominated, Concepcion would have won, exactly what Villanueva had feared.

In the end, this whole affair has a happy ending. All the various factions in the College of Law attended Carlota’s oath-taking. All of them also agreed to bury the hatchet and to call a truce in what has been a bruising, and contentious, struggle. Peace has returned to the College of Law.

We have learned our lesson as well. The next time we talk to law professors, we will take more than the usual care.

21 Responses to Apologies and clarifications: The byzantine politics of the U.P. College of Law

Avatar

benign0

November 16th, 2005 at 6:36 am

Stepping back a bit, I think the UP Law and the Media deserve each other. The UP Law’s show of “outrage” over the level of journalism that the PCIJ has exhibited comes across as a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The UP Law has indeed lived up magnificently to the observation published here that “Politics in the UP law faculty is more byzantine than politics most anywhere else”. On this, I say that the work of their products reflect the culture of their alma mater college.

Fact is, UP Law, compared to other UP colleges/institutions has produced more than its fair share of the crooks and other politicians that have contributed significantly to the backwardness of the Philippines. Fraternities affiliated with UP Law have been among the most violent and disruptive in the UP campus and are renowned for their chronic petty feuds and high-nosed ‘old boys’ network amongst its “brods”.

This old boys’ club ( which encourages patronage based on filial and personal relationships over fair evaluation of individual merit) endure past graduation into old age and probably account for a significant component of the nepotism, cronyism and patron politics that are deeply entrenched in Philippine business, politics, and society.

So for the UP Law, granted, you people are good at citing technicalities and loopholes. After all, you train your “products” (if you can call them as such) to WIN legal battles. But there is a big difference between legal triumphs and triumphs of the SPIRIT of The Law.

In the sense of the above, the UP Law gives a bad name to the State University. The UP College of Engineering for example prides itself as an educator of ENGINEERS, whilst ALL THE REST of those engineering schools, as they say, merely train their students to ace board exams. Can’t say we can analogously apply this observation to the UP Law.

Some food for thought. 😀

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 16th, 2005 at 8:10 am

There you are again BenignO.

Trying to make a connection between the UP College of Law and the Media with your usual generalizations : making a case of one or two bad eggs as the case of all bad eggs.

The more seriously you try to mimic lawyerly demeanors and trying to be a judgely Gauleiter, the more hilarious you will be.

Some food for your own thought and consumption , in deed :)

Avatar

Toro

November 16th, 2005 at 9:55 am

I can’t see the “grievous error” committed by PCIJ, and the need to apologize so profusely for misreporting some UP events that were not entirely PCIJ’s fault. PCIJ was served the information from interviews with reliable UP law faculty members. If PCIJ now says one group told them this and the other group said another it only means that PCIJ had fallen victim to the internal politics that’s bugging that law institution.

If at all, PCIJ’s lengthy mea culpa only succeeded in unwrapping the little known bad politics that exist among the brods. Sadly, that famous institution produced more leftists. damaged thinkers, and bad political leaders, notably a dictator, than righteous ones. I’m just happy my two boys who went to Ateneo and UP were not influenced.

Avatar

benign0

November 16th, 2005 at 10:44 am

Psst, look what little birdy got hit by the proverbial stone. 😉

Any schmoe can come up with your summary dismissals of my views through personal attack attourney. People with TRUE insight on the other hand will come up with logical arguments against said views.

Which one of the above do you fancy yourself to be?

Now THAT is food for thought for you, attourney. 😀

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 16th, 2005 at 12:06 pm

I dont’ fancy at all little birdie,Gauleiter :)

If the best you can argue is to generalize everything you see and do, particularly in the case of UP Law, then, suit yourself.

Unfortunately, your smart-alecky kind of debate doesn’t proximate nor even come close to the whimpering logic of class goats of a never-heard law schools.

Reality hurts, isn’t it ESQ ?

A thought of a food for a thoughts like you :)

Avatar

benign0

November 16th, 2005 at 12:24 pm

Tsk tsk. Thinning a bit on the wit department, attourney?

What happened to the lawyerese you love to bandy around?

Let me guess: You suddenly find yourself being ashamed of your profession.

ha ha! 😀

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 16th, 2005 at 12:35 pm

Tsk !tsk! tsk! too, Mr. Gauleiter :)

If your debate plan is to engage me in non sequitors and fallacies,
I rather have my coffee and pancake at Jollibee :)

As to your guess? Ah, it is as good as a fool making himself more foolish :)

Let me second guess : You suddently find yourself nostalgic to the time you got kicked -out from UP Law ?

Ha!ha!ha! indeed :)

Avatar

benign0

November 16th, 2005 at 4:16 pm

What makes you think I got kicked out of law school?

Avatar

Salvatore

November 16th, 2005 at 4:25 pm

indio_lawless said,

Let me second guess : You suddently find yourself nostalgic to the time you got kicked -out from UP Law ?
_________________________________

Excuse me, atorni, if you meant that as an insult, please don’t.

This country is the way it is thanks largely from the “grand manner” by which the legal profession was taught at the College. No need for you to remind us all of the deep-seated braggadocio and swagger these legal academics force into the throat of every law freshman.

I don’t, mind you, agree with what benign0 always had to say. But being a kick out is no longer insulting these days. Have you ever read what Ralph Ellison had to say about who moves the world these days? Try searching in google Ellison’s supposed inspirational speech at one Ivy University.

Don’t mind benign0 na lang, ok? Let him be.

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 16th, 2005 at 5:50 pm

No problemo, Salvatore.

It’s not meant as an insult but a second guessing on equating BenignO’s biased, if not a totally unfair statement, against UP Law.

While it can be argued that Marcos is an alumnus, including the likes of Senators Drilon and Santiago, and even Rep. Rolex Suplico, the perception that the fault of one is the fault of all is absolutely erroneous.

BenignO’s fallacious pronouncements, if not objected timely, will ultimately lead to the so-called “poisoning of the well” which will subsequently work against the graduates of the Institution including its former and current students.

Letting him be without giving him the dose of his own medicine, is akin to subscribing to the idea that he be allowed to disparage Filipinos at will.

Thanks for your feedback, Salvatore.

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 16th, 2005 at 5:53 pm

As to you Benign0 :

Res Ipsa Loquitor :)

Avatar

benign0

November 16th, 2005 at 6:01 pm

Whatever you say, attourney.

ha ha! 😀

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 16th, 2005 at 6:19 pm

Thanks, for being a good sport, Benign0.

Ha ha ha ! :)

Avatar

benign0

November 16th, 2005 at 6:42 pm

Still curious though, attourney.

What makes you think I’m a law school kickout?

Avatar

MitaMS

November 16th, 2005 at 11:08 pm

You know, Benigno….you make a very good point – with apologies to all my friends who are graduates of UP Law. With all the brilliant “de campanilla” lawyers, politicians and leaders they have churned out through the years, there are only a few who really stand out and really worked for the betterment of Philippine society – and not for the money nor for fame.

Let’s start a list of outstanding grads of UP Law who made a difference in our society. I’ll cite Cecilia Munoz Palma for human rights and going against the dictator when she herself was still in government, Haydee Yorac for good governance and human rights. Christian Monsod for his stint at the Comelec (darn, best ever Commissioner). Can anyone else name any other UP Law grad who made a huge difference for the betterment of Philippine society?

Avatar

tongue in, anew

November 17th, 2005 at 5:22 am

And the best you can name is three? Insulto yata yan… Go check the rosters of the Supreme Court, all the gov’t departments, the Law frats, even the university frats, business and academe. You’d probably need a whole blog to list them all.

Tatlo lang?

Avatar

benign0

November 17th, 2005 at 8:43 am

MitaMS,

“In Japan there are very few lawyers and the codes are mostly unwritten, but they are binding, nonetheless.”

– Greg Sheridan, *Asian Values Western Dreams*

The above is a favourite quote of mine and puts in perspective the nature of the lawyering profession.

Japan of course is an extreme case. It has a thousand-year-old culture that is bound together by a code of ethics that very few non-Japanese can even begin to comprehend. Societies with moderate levels of collective trust such as most progressive Western cultures have a fair bit of lawyers and maybe even just as many of the blood-sucking varieties that infest backward societies like the Philippines. Over in these progressive Western societies, they fit ok and are well-tolerated in their place in the scheme of things.

In a backward society like the Philippines, however, which lacks a philosophical framework to put the technical aspect of law in its proper context, the legal profession — with its “products” trained in the TECHNICAL interpretation of the law, run around perverting the system to their ends. The outcome is what we all see today. A convoluted governance framework, snail-paced judicial processes, and fat-cat lawyers tweaking/invoking legal technicalities at the expense of the overall ability of the society to move forward.

This is the only legacy I see law schools like the UP Law will leave in its wake (unless of course anyone can rise up to t.i.a.n’s challenge to come up with more than the three examples you cited).

In most progressive countries, progress is underpinned by the achievements of engineers, scientists, thinkers, and artists. Lawyers in these societies have contributed by providing the legal framework and governance tools to support and sustain high achievement and world-class levels of excellence in the latter fields. Contrast that with the situation in the Philippines.

Think of what roles Pinoy lawyers have played in the last 50 years.

Food for thought, as always. 😉

Avatar

indio_lawless

November 17th, 2005 at 4:26 pm

Justice Puno ( UP Law ’66 ) once said * :

If there is any profession that has been maligned since time immemorial, it is the legal profession. 2000 years ago, Seneca accused lawyers as “smothered by their prosperity.” Plato condemned them for their “small and unrighteous souls.” Today, there is a strong public perception that the legal profession has lost its “fine sense of dignity and honor” because it has been “contaminated with the spirit of commerce”. The charge that constitutes more than an inconvenience to our conscience is that lawyers follow the rule of the cannibal – – – we eat what we kill.

Let me conclude by saying, let us get together and dismiss all these charges. Let us prove that law is a calling and that the voice that calls belongs to the God of love and therefore lawyers serve a purpose higher than themselves. Let us show that the legal profession is not a mere economic occupation and that its call does not come from the God of gold and therefore our actions as lawyers are not dictated alone by the invisible hand of the market forces. I say and I say it again, the business of law is not a business but service to God and men.”

(* Address delivered by Senior Associate Justice Reynato S. Puno on April 24, 2005 to the graduating class of Ateneo de Manila College of Law at the Meralco Theater. For a copy of his speech, check: http://www.supremecourt. gov.ph/ )

As to distinguished alumni: Chief Justice Davide; Justice Quisumbing, is a member of the Highest Tribunal and former DOLE Secretary; the Late Senator and Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan, Senators Joker Arroyo and Pangilinan. Also kindly check : http://www.erika.upd.edu.ph/featured2.htm.

Avatar

monk_x

November 22nd, 2005 at 1:40 pm

Evidently Atty. Susan Villanueva still has not been interviewed by PCIJ to this date. If this episode has taught us anything it is that like Newsbreak’s “inside track”, PCIJ’s blogs have facilitated the production of bad journalism.

Avatar

m38manila

November 25th, 2005 at 7:51 pm

Interesting reading LOL.

But honestly indio_lawless, don’t kid yourself about lawyering being an honorable profession. Most, if not all, lawyers are a bunch of schizophrenic DOGS, both here and overseas!! The school you come from doesn’t seem to matter at all either LOL. They all produce the same parasitic pathetic assholes who’s view of true justice depends on what side they’re on (in either case they make money…. or sometimes).

This is a view from a member of a company that spends millions of pesos a year on bullshit labor and civil cases wherein the complainants’ lawyers always work on a contingency basis. They always lose, but so do we!! That money would have been spent on improving, to an even greater extent, the conditions of our “honest” staff who are prepared to earn an honest living. This is the only country where I have lived, that as a company, we have to budget for significant amount of legal fees every year!!!!

You only get the respect you have earnt. Lawyers have earnt none. Therefore you get NO RESPECT. So shut up.

Thank you LOL

Avatar

benign0

November 30th, 2005 at 11:56 am

Think of lawyers as a necessary evil in society. It just so happens that Pinoy society is so addicted to NECESSARY EVILS that whatever resources it posseses (or rather possessED) got sucked away by these evils on b*llshit undertakings (which, not coincidentally, always seem to have some sort of lawyer involved).

ha ha! 😀

Comment Form